Hippocampus may still have a role in recalling old memories

Paraphrasing/adding to the article abstract: prevailing theory suggests that long-term memories are encoded via a two-phase process requiring temporary involvement of the hippocampus followed by permanent storage in the neocortex. However this group found that, even weeks later, after the memories are supposed to be independent of the hippocampus, they could disrupt recall by briefly suppressing hippocampal CA1. The suppression must be brief; if they suppress CA1 for a long time recall works again. This suggests that, long after memory formation, the memory is not primarily stored in the hippocampus, but the hippocampus is still somehow involved in recall. The research also implicates anterior cingulate cortex in recall. Abstract after the break.

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Increasing adult hippocampal neurogenesis is sufficient to improve pattern separation.

Sahay A, Scobie KN, Hill AS, O’Carroll CM, Kheirbek MA, Burghardt NS,
Fenton AA, Dranovsky A, Hen R. Increasing adult hippocampal neurogenesis is sufficient to improve
pattern separation. Nature. 2011 Apr 3


Abstract after the break.

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Genetic tagging of the particular neurons in the basolateral amygdala that store a particular engram

When we learn new information we use only a tiny fraction of the neurons in our brain for that particular memory trace. In order to allow the molecular study of those specific neurons we combined elements of the tet system with a promoter that is activated by high level neural activity (the cfos promoter) to generate mice in which a genetic tag can be introduced into neurons that are active at a given point in time. The tag can be maintained for a prolonged period, creating a precise record of the neural activity pattern at a specific point in time. Using fear conditioning we found that the same neurons activated during learning were reactivated when the animal recalled the fearful event. We also found that these neurons were no longer activated following memory extinction, consistent with the idea that extinction modifies a component of the original memory trace.

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Frequency of gamma oscillations routes flow of information in the hippocampus

Supplementary Figure 1:  A schematic illustrating the main finding. Slow gamma is maximal on the descending portion of the theta wave, and fast gamma peaks near the trough. Slow gamma serves to synchronize CA1 with inputs arriving from CA3, and fast gamma synchronizes CA1 with MEC input.

Supplementary Figure 1: A schematic illustrating the main finding. Slow gamma is maximal on the descending portion of the theta wave, and fast gamma peaks near the trough. Slow gamma serves to synchronize CA1 with inputs arriving from CA3, and fast gamma synchronizes CA1 with MEC input.

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Hippocampal Replay Is Not a Simple Function of Experience

Replay of behavioral sequences in the hippocampus during sharp wave ripple complexes (SWRs) provides a potential mechanism for memory consolidation and the learning of knowledge structures. Current hypotheses imply that replay should straightforwardly reflect recent experience. However, we find these hypotheses to be incompatible with the content of replay on a task with two distinct behavioral sequences (A and B). We observed forward and backward replay of B even when rats had been performing A for >10 min. Furthermore, replay of nonlocal sequence B occurred more often when B was infrequently experienced. Neither forward nor backward sequences preferentially represented highly experienced trajectories within a session. Additionally, we observed the construction of never-experienced novel-path sequences. These observations challenge the idea that sequence activation during SWRs is a simple replay of recent experience. Instead, replay reflected all physically available trajectories within the environment, suggesting a potential role in active learning and maintenance of the cognitive map.

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Neuroengineering memory: Something old, something new

Over the last week, it seems like everyone has sent me this NYT piece on PKM-zeta (about work in Todd Sacktor’s lab). I’m not sure why this work is being featured in the Times right now, since it’s a few years old. But it was news to me and I think it is of interest to anyone trying to understand structure-function relationships in the brain. In the original Science paper (from 2007), a pseudosubstrate inhibitor of PKM-zeta caused irreversible loss of a conditioned taste aversion memory (news and views here). I was unfamiliar with PKM-zeta, which appears to be a constitutively active form of PKC-zeta (a kinase that some might be more familiar with) and that lacks the autoinhibitory regulatory domain of PKC. The amazing phenomena is that, after treatment with ZIP (the pseudosubstrate that ties up PKM-zeta), the memory is permanently erased and doesn’t seem to return.

What’s going on? One tantalizing possibility is that the enzyme itself is directly related to the memory trace. This contradicts the (unproven) assumption of modern neuroscience that memories are stored solely in the synaptic strengths (ie. membrane-bound receptors) of a neuron. The other suggestion is that PKM-zeta is actively maintaining synapses and that enzymatic inhibition disrupts the precise maintenance of receptors or synaptic machinery. The effects happen quite fast (within 2 hours after drug injection), which seems short for receptor recycling but perhaps long enough for structural change to occur. I’m no expert on receptor movement: Is 2 hours long enough to add/remove a significant number of receptors?

Fascinating work but the method is blunt, wiping all experimentally-induced memories (and probably others too). Last month, another group reported (also in Science) selective erasure of a fear-conditioned memory using an interesting new genetic tool. Here, neurons in the amgydala that overexpressed CREB were found to be preferentially recruited into a fear memory trace (as shown in a previous Science paper). Incorporation into the memory trace was assayed by expression of the immediate-early gene (ie. activity-dependent) Arc. In the present study, they combine overexpression of CREB in a subset of neurons with cell death (via Diphtheria toxin in a transgenic mouse vulnerable to diphtheria). Apparently, normal mice lack the receptor (here a simian version is used) that confers pathogenicity for diphtheria. Thus, the viral construct both overexpresses CREB in a subset of neurons and selectively makes the same subset vulnerable to diphtheria. Ablation of just these neurons causes a permanent loss of the memory. Subsequent similar learning proceeds just fine (using the remaining neurons).

Can we say that the race is officially on to ablate just the synapses involved in the memory? I think so. Extra points if the ablation is reversible too!