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By David Marchese Our memories form the bedrock of who we are. Those recollections, in turn, are built on one very simple assumption: This happened. But things are not quite so simple. “We update our memories through the act of remembering,” says Charan Ranganath, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, and the author of the illuminating new book “Why We Remember.” “So it creates all these weird biases and infiltrates our decision making. It affects our sense of who we are.” Rather than being photo-accurate repositories of past experience, Ranganath argues, our memories function more like active interpreters, working to help us navigate the present and future. The implication is that who we are, and the memories we draw on to determine that, are far less fixed than you might think. “Our identities,” Ranganath says, “are built on shifting sand.” What is the most common misconception about memory? People believe that memory should be effortless, but their expectations for how much they should remember are totally out of whack with how much they’re capable of remembering.1 Another misconception is that memory is supposed to be an archive of the past. We expect that we should be able to replay the past like a movie in our heads. The problem with that assumption is that we don’t replay the past as it happened; we do it through a lens of interpretation and imagination. Semantic memory is the term for the memory of facts and knowledge about the world. standpoint? It’s exceptionally hard to answer the question of how much we can remember. What I’ll say is that we can remember an extraordinary amount of detail that would make you feel at times as if you have a photographic memory. We’re capable of these extraordinary feats. I would argue that we’re all everyday-memory experts, because we have this exceptional semantic memory, which is the scaffold for episodic memory. I know it sounds squirmy to say, “Well, I can’t answer the question of how much we remember,” but I don’t want readers to walk away thinking memory is all made up. © 2024 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 29134 - Posted: 02.06.2024

By Ashley Juavinett In the 2010 award-winning film “Inception,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and others run around multiple layers of someone’s consciousness, trying to implant an idea in the person’s mind. If you can plant something deep enough, the film suggests, you can make them believe it is their own idea. The film was billed as science fiction, but three years later, in 2013, researchers actually did this — in a mouse, at least. The work focused on the hippocampus, along with its closely interconnected structures, long recognized by scientists to hold our dearest memories. If you damage significant portions of just one region of your hippocampus, the dentate gyrus, you’ll lose the ability to form new memories. How these memories are stored, however, is still up for debate. One early but persistent idea posits that enduring changes in our neural circuitry, or “engrams,” may represent the physical traces of specific memories. An engram is sometimes thought of as a group of cells, along with their synaptic weights and connections throughout the brain. In sum, the engram is what DiCaprio’s character would have had to discreetly manipulate in his target. In 2012, a team in Susumu Tonegawa’s lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that you could mark the cells of a real memory engram and reactivate them later. Taking that work one step further, Steve Ramirez, Xu Liu and others in Tonegawa’s lab demonstrated the following year that you can implant a memory of something that never even happened. In doing so, they turned science fiction into reality, one tiny foot shock at a time. Published in Science, Ramirez and Liu’s study is a breath of fresh air, scientifically speaking. The abstract starts with one of the shortest sentences you’ll ever find in a scientific manuscript: “Memories can be unreliable.” The entire paper is extremely readable, and there is no shortage of related papers and review articles that you could give your students to read for additional context. © 2024 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 29131 - Posted: 02.06.2024

By Ellen Barry At the root of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a memory that cannot be controlled. It may intrude on everyday activity, thrusting a person into the middle of a horrifying event, or surface as night terrors or flashbacks. Decades of treatment of military veterans and sexual assault survivors have left little doubt that traumatic memories function differently from other memories. A group of researchers at Yale University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai set out to find empirical evidence of those differences. The team conducted brain scans of 28 people with PTSD while they listened to recorded narrations of their own memories. Some of the recorded memories were neutral, some were simply “sad,” and some were traumatic. The brain scans found clear differences, the researchers reported in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The people listening to the sad memories, which often involved the death of a family member, showed consistently high engagement of the hippocampus, part of the brain that organizes and contextualizes memories. When the same people listened to their traumatic memories — of sexual assaults, fires, school shootings and terrorist attacks — the hippocampus was not involved. “What it tells us is that the brain is in a different state in the two memories,” said Daniela Schiller, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and one of the authors of the study. She noted that therapies for PTSD often sought to help people organize their memory so they can view it as distant from the present. “Now we find something that potentially can explain it in the brain,” she said. “The brain doesn’t look like it’s in a state of memory; it looks like it is a state of present experience.” Indeed, the authors conclude in the paper, “traumatic memories are not experienced as © 2023 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 29030 - Posted: 12.02.2023

By John Krakauer & Tamar Makin The human brain’s ability to adapt and change, known as neuroplasticity, has long captivated both the scientific community and the public imagination. It’s a concept that brings hope and fascination, especially when we hear extraordinary stories of, for example, blind individuals developing heightened senses that enable them to navigate through a cluttered room purely based on echolocation or stroke survivors miraculously regaining motor abilities once thought lost. For years, the notion that neurological challenges such as blindness, deafness, amputation or stroke lead to dramatic and significant changes in brain function has been widely accepted. These narratives paint a picture of a highly malleable brain that is capable of dramatic reorganization to compensate for lost functions. It’s an appealing notion: the brain, in response to injury or deficit, unlocks untapped potentials, rewires itself to achieve new capabilities and self-repurposes its regions to achieve new functions. This idea can also be linked with the widespread, though inherently false, myth that we only use 10 percent of our brain, suggesting that we have extensive neural reserves to lean on in times of need. But how accurate is this portrayal of the brain’s adaptive abilities to reorganize? Are we truly able to tap into reserves of unused brain potential following an injury, or have these captivating stories led to a misunderstanding of the brain’s true plastic nature? In a paper we wrote for the journal eLife, we delved into the heart of these questions, analyzing classical studies and reevaluating long-held beliefs about cortical reorganization and neuroplasticity. What we found offers a compelling new perspective on how the brain adapts to change and challenges some of the popularized notions about its flexible capacity for recovery. The roots of this fascination can be traced back to neuroscientist Michael Merzenich’s pioneering work, and it was popularized through books such as Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself. Merzenich’s insights were built on the influential studies of Nobel Prize–winning neuroscientists David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel, who explored ocular dominance in kittens. © 2023 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 29019 - Posted: 11.22.2023

By Catherine Offord Close your eyes and picture yourself running an errand across town. You can probably imagine the turns you’d need to take and the landmarks you’d encounter. This ability to conjure such scenarios in our minds is thought to be crucial to humans’ capacity to plan ahead. But it may not be uniquely human: Rats also seem to be able to “imagine” moving through mental environments, researchers report today in Science. Rodents trained to navigate within a virtual arena could, in return for a reward, activate the same neural patterns they’d shown while navigating—even when they were standing still. That suggests rodents can voluntarily access mental maps of places they’ve previously visited. “We know humans carry around inside their heads representations of all kinds of spaces: rooms in your house, your friends’ houses, shops, libraries, neighborhoods,” says Sean Polyn, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research. “Just by the simple act of reminiscing, we can place ourselves in these spaces—to think that we’ve got an animal analog of that very human imaginative act is very impressive.” Researchers think humans’ mental maps are encoded in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory. As we move through an environment, cells in this region fire in particular patterns depending on our location. When we later revisit—or simply think about visiting—those locations, the same hippocampal signatures are activated. Rats also encode spatial information in the hippocampus. But it’s been impossible to establish whether they have a similar capacity for voluntary mental navigation because of the practical challenges of getting a rodent to think about a particular place on cue, says study author Chongxi Lai, who conducted the work while a graduate student and later a postdoc at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus. In their new study, Lai, along with Janelia neuroscientist Albert Lee and colleagues, found a way around this problem by developing a brain-machine interface that rewarded rats for navigating their surroundings using only their thoughts.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28989 - Posted: 11.04.2023

By Jake Buehler A fruit bat hanging in the corner of a cave stirs; it is ready to move. It scans the space to look for a free perch and then takes flight, adjusting its membranous wings to angle an approach to a spot next to one of its fuzzy fellows. As it does so, neurological data lifted from its brain is broadcast to sensors installed in the cave’s walls. This is no balmy cave along the Mediterranean Sea. The group of Egyptian fruit bats is in Berkeley, California, navigating an artificial cave in a laboratory that researchers have set up to study the inner workings of the animals’ minds. The researchers had an idea: that as a bat navigates its physical environment, it’s also navigating a network of social relationships. They wanted to know whether the bats use the same or different parts of their brain to map these intersecting realities. In a new study published in Nature in August, the scientists revealed that these maps overlap. The brain cells informing a bat of its own location also encode details about other bats nearby — not only their location, but also their identities. The findings raise the intriguing possibility that evolution can program those neurons for multiple purposes to serve the needs of different species. The neurons in question are located in the hippocampus, a structure deep within the mammalian brain that is involved in the creation of long-term memories. A special population of hippocampal neurons, known as place cells, are thought to create an internal navigation system. First identified in the rat hippocampus in 1971 by the neuroscientist John O’Keefe, place cells fire when an animal is in a particular location; different place cells encode different places. This system helps animals determine where they are, where they need to go and how to get from here to there. In 2014, O’Keefe was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of place cells, and over the last several decades they have been identified in multiple primate species, including humans. However, moving from place to place isn’t the only way an animal can experience a change in its surroundings. In your home, the walls and furniture mostly stay the same from day to day, said Michael Yartsev, who studies the neural basis of natural behavior at the University of California, Berkeley and co-led the new work. But the social context of your living space could change quite regularly. © 2023 An editorially independent publication supported by the Simons Foundation.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28982 - Posted: 11.01.2023

By Clay Risen Endel Tulving, whose insights into the structure of human memory and the way we recall the past revolutionized the field of cognitive psychology, died on Sept. 11 in Mississauga, Ontario. He was 96. His daughters, Linda Tulving and Elo Tulving-Blais, said his death, at an assisted living home, was caused by complications of a stroke. Until Dr. Tulving began his pathbreaking work in the 1960s, most cognitive psychologists were more interested in understanding how people learn things than in how they retain and recall them. When they did think about memory, they often depicted it as one giant cerebral warehouse, packed higgledy-piggledy, with only a vague conception of how we retrieved those items. This, they asserted, was the realm of “the mind,” an untestable, almost philosophical construct. Dr. Tulving, who spent most of his career at the University of Toronto, first made his name with a series of clever experiments and papers, demonstrating how the mind organizes memories and how it uses contextual cues to retrieve them. Forgetting, he posited, was less about information loss than it was about the lack of cues to retrieve it. He established his legacy with a chapter in the 1972 book “Organization of Memory,” which he edited with Wayne Donaldson. In that chapter, he argued for a taxonomy of memory types. He started with two: procedural memory, which is largely unconscious and involves things like how to walk or ride a bicycle, and declarative memory, which is conscious and discrete. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28934 - Posted: 09.29.2023

By Veronique Greenwood In the dappled sunlit waters of Caribbean mangrove forests, tiny box jellyfish bob in and out of the shade. Box jellies are distinguished from true jellyfish in part by their complex visual system — the grape-size predators have 24 eyes. But like other jellyfish, they are brainless, controlling their cube-shaped bodies with a distributed network of neurons. That network, it turns out, is more sophisticated than you might assume. On Friday, researchers published a report in the journal Current Biology indicating that the box jellyfish species Tripedalia cystophora have the ability to learn. Because box jellyfish diverged from our part of the animal kingdom long ago, understanding their cognitive abilities could help scientists trace the evolution of learning. The tricky part about studying learning in box jellies was finding an everyday behavior that scientists could train the creatures to perform in the lab. Anders Garm, a biologist at the University of Copenhagen and an author of the new paper, said his team decided to focus on a swift about-face that box jellies execute when they are about to hit a mangrove root. These roots rise through the water like black towers, while the water around them appears pale by comparison. But the contrast between the two can change from day to day, as silt clouds the water and makes it more difficult to tell how far away a root is. How do box jellies tell when they are getting too close? “The hypothesis was, they need to learn this,” Dr. Garm said. “When they come back to these habitats, they have to learn, how is today’s water quality? How is the contrast changing today?” In the lab, researchers produced images of alternating dark and light stripes, representing the mangrove roots and water, and used them to line the insides of buckets about six inches wide. When the stripes were a stark black and white, representing optimum water clarity, box jellies never got close to the bucket walls. With less contrast between the stripes, however, box jellies immediately began to run into them. This was the scientists’ chance to see if they would learn. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28925 - Posted: 09.23.2023

By Saugat Bolakhe Memory doesn’t represent a single scientific mystery; it’s many of them. Neuroscientists and psychologists have come to recognize varied types of memory that coexist in our brain: episodic memories of past experiences, semantic memories of facts, short- and long-term memories, and more. These often have different characteristics and even seem to be located in different parts of the brain. But it’s never been clear what feature of a memory determines how or why it should be sorted in this way. Now, a new theory backed by experiments using artificial neural networks proposes that the brain may be sorting memories by evaluating how likely they are to be useful as guides in the future. In particular, it suggests that many memories of predictable things, ranging from facts to useful recurring experiences — like what you regularly eat for breakfast or your walk to work — are saved in the brain’s neocortex, where they can contribute to generalizations about the world. Memories less likely to be useful — like the taste of that unique drink you had at that one party — are kept in the seahorse-shaped memory bank called the hippocampus. Actively segregating memories this way on the basis of their usefulness and generalizability may optimize the reliability of memories for helping us navigate novel situations. The authors of the new theory — the neuroscientists Weinan Sun and James Fitzgerald of the Janelia Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Andrew Saxe of University College London, and their colleagues — described it in a recent paper in Nature Neuroscience. It updates and expands on the well-established idea that the brain has two linked, complementary learning systems: the hippocampus, which rapidly encodes new information, and the neocortex, which gradually integrates it for long-term storage. James McClelland, a cognitive neuroscientist at Stanford University who pioneered the idea of complementary learning systems in memory but was not part of the new study, remarked that it “addresses aspects of generalization” that his own group had not thought about when they proposed the theory in the mid 1990s. All Rights Reserved © 2023

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28900 - Posted: 09.07.2023

By Alla Katsnelson Our understanding of animal minds is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Just three decades ago, the idea that a broad array of creatures have individual personalities was highly suspect in the eyes of serious animal scientists — as were such seemingly fanciful notions as fish feeling pain, bees appreciating playtime and cockatoos having culture. Today, though, scientists are rethinking the very definition of what it means to be sentient and seeing capacity for complex cognition and subjective experience in a great variety of creatures — even if their inner worlds differ greatly from our own. Such discoveries are thrilling, but they probably wouldn’t have surprised Charles Henry Turner, who died a century ago, in 1923. An American zoologist and comparative psychologist, he was one of the first scientists to systematically probe complex cognition in animals considered least likely to possess it. Turner primarily studied arthropods such as spiders and bees, closely observing them and setting up trailblazing experiments that hinted at cognitive abilities more complex than most scientists at the time suspected. Turner also explored differences in how individuals within a species behaved — a precursor of research today on what some scientists refer to as personality. Most of Turner’s contemporaries believed that “lowly” critters such as insects and spiders were tiny automatons, preprogrammed to perform well-defined functions. “Turner was one of the first, and you might say should be given the lion’s share of credit, for changing that perception,” says Charles Abramson, a comparative psychologist at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater who has done extensive biographical research on Turner and has been petitioning the US Postal Service for years to issue a stamp commemorating him. Turner also challenged the views that animals lacked the capacity for intelligent problem-solving and that they behaved based on instinct or, at best, learned associations, and that individual differences were just noisy data. But just as the scientific establishment of the time lacked the imagination to believe that animals other than human beings can have complex intelligence and subjectivity of experience, it also lacked the collective imagination to envision Turner, a Black scientist, as an equal among them. The hundredth anniversary of Turner’s death offers an opportunity to consider what we may have missed out on by their oversight. © 2023 Annual Reviews

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28869 - Posted: 08.09.2023

By Yasemin Saplakoglu On warm summer nights, green lacewings flutter around bright lanterns in backyards and at campsites. The insects, with their veil-like wings, are easily distracted from their natural preoccupation with sipping on flower nectar, avoiding predatory bats and reproducing. Small clutches of the eggs they lay hang from long stalks on the underside of leaves and sway like fairy lights in the wind. The dangling ensembles of eggs are beautiful but also practical: They keep the hatching larvae from immediately eating their unhatched siblings. With sickle-like jaws that pierce their prey and suck them dry, lacewing larvae are “vicious,” said James Truman, a professor emeritus of development, cell and molecular biology at the University of Washington. “It’s like ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in one animal.” This Jekyll-and-Hyde dichotomy is made possible by metamorphosis, the phenomenon best known for transforming caterpillars into butterflies. In its most extreme version, complete metamorphosis, the juvenile and adult forms look and act like totally different species. Metamorphosis is not an exception in the animal kingdom; it’s almost a rule. More than 80% of the known animal species today, mainly insects, amphibians and marine invertebrates, undergo some form of metamorphosis or have complex, multistage life cycles. The process of metamorphosis presents many mysteries, but some of the most deeply puzzling ones center on the nervous system. At the center of this phenomenon is the brain, which must code for not one but multiple different identities. After all, the life of a flying, mate-seeking insect is very different from the life of a hungry caterpillar. For the past half-century, researchers have probed the question of how a network of neurons that encodes one identity — that of a hungry caterpillar or a murderous lacewing larva — shifts to encode an adult identity that encompasses a completely different set of behaviors and needs. Truman and his team have now learned how much metamorphosis reshuffles parts of the brain. In a recent study published in the journal eLife, they traced dozens of neurons in the brains of fruit flies going through metamorphosis. They found that, unlike the tormented protagonist of Franz Kafka’s short story “The Metamorphosis,” who awakes one day as a monstrous insect, adult insects likely can’t remember much of their larval life. Although many of the larval neurons in the study endured, the part of the insect brain that Truman’s group examined was dramatically rewired. That overhaul of neural connections mirrored a similarly dramatic shift in the behavior of the insects as they changed from crawling, hungry larvae to flying, mate-seeking adults. All Rights Reserved © 2023

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28860 - Posted: 07.27.2023

Geneva Abdul The so-called “brain fog” symptom associated with long Covid is comparable to ageing 10 years, researchers have suggested. In a study by King’s College London, researchers investigated the impact of Covid-19 on memory and found cognitive impairment highest in individuals who had tested positive and had more than three months of symptoms. The study, published on Friday in a clinical journal published by The Lancet, also found the symptoms in affected individuals stretched to almost two years since initial infection. “The fact remains that two years on from their first infection, some people don’t feel fully recovered and their lives continue to be impacted by the long-term effects of the coronavirus,” said Claire Steves, a professor of ageing and health at King’s College. “We need more work to understand why this is the case and what can be done to help.” An estimated two million people living in the UK were experiencing self-reported long Covid – symptoms continuing for more than four weeks since infection – as of January 2023, according to the 2023 government census. Commonly reported symptoms included fatigue, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath and muscle aches. The study included more than 5,100 participants from the Covid Symptom Study Biobank, recruited through a smartphone app. Through 12 cognitive tests measuring speed and accuracy, researchers examined working memory, attention, reasoning and motor controls between two periods of 2021 and 2022. © 2023 Guardian News & Media Limited or

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28854 - Posted: 07.22.2023

Lilly Tozer Injecting ageing monkeys with a ‘longevity factor’ protein can improve their cognitive function, a study reveals. The findings, published on 3 July in Nature Aging1, could lead to new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. It is the first time that restoring levels of klotho — a naturally occurring protein that declines in our bodies with age — has been shown to improve cognition in a primate. Previous research on mice had shown that injections of klotho can extend the animals’ lives and increases synaptic plasticity2 — the capacity to control communication between neurons, at junctions called synapses. “Given the close genetic and physiological parallels between primates and humans, this could suggest potential applications for treating human cognitive disorders,” says Marc Busche, a neurologist at the UK Dementia Research Institute group at University College London. The protein is named after the Greek goddess Clotho, one of the Fates, who spins the thread of life. The study involved testing the cognitive abilities of old rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), aged around 22 years on average, before and after a single injection of klotho. To do this, researchers used a behavioural experiment to test for spatial memory: the monkeys had to remember the location of an edible treat, placed in one of several wells by the investigator, after it was hidden from them. Study co-author Dena Dubal, a physician-researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, compares the test to recalling where you left your car in a car park, or remembering a sequence of numbers a couple of minutes after hearing it. Such tasks become harder with age. The monkeys performed significantly better in these tests after receiving klotho — before the injections they identified the correct wells around 45% of the time, compared with around 60% of the time after injection. The improvement was sustained for at least two weeks. Unlike in previous studies involving mice, relatively low doses of klotho were effective. This adds an element of complexity to the findings, which suggests a more nuanced mode of actions than was previously thought, Busche says. © 2023 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28847 - Posted: 07.06.2023

Kerri Smith In a dimly lit laboratory in London, a brown mouse explores a circular tabletop, sniffing as it ambles about. Suddenly, silently, a shadow appears. In a split second, the mouse’s brain whirs with activity. Neurons in its midbrain start to fire, sensing the threat of a potential predator, and a cascade of activity in an adjacent region orders its body to choose a response — freeze to the spot in the hope of going undetected, or run for shelter, in this case a red acetate box stationed nearby. From the mouse’s perspective, this is life or death. But the shadow wasn’t cast by a predator. Instead, it is the work of neuroscientists in Tiago Branco’s lab, who have rigged up a plastic disc on a lever to provoke, and thereby study, the mouse’s escape behaviour. This is a rapid decision-making process that draws on sensory information, previous experience and instinct. Branco, a neuroscientist at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre at University College London, has wondered about installing a taxidermied owl on a zip wire to create a more realistic experience. And his colleagues have more ideas — cutting the disc into a wingspan shape, for instance. “Having drones — that would also be very nice,” says Dario Campagner, a researcher in Branco’s lab. A mouse detects a looming threat and runs for cover. The shadow has been darkened. The set-up is part of a growing movement to step away from some of the lab experiments that neuroscientists have used for decades to understand the brain and behaviour. Such exercises — training an animal to use a lever or joystick to get a reward, for example, or watching it swim through a water maze — have established important principles of brain activity and organization. But they take days to months of training an animal to complete specific, idiosyncratic tasks. The end result, Branco says, is like studying a “professional athlete”; the brain might work differently in the messy, unpredictable real world. Mice didn’t evolve to operate a joystick. Meanwhile, many behaviours that come naturally — such as escaping a predator, or finding scarce food or a receptive mate — are extremely important for the animal, says Ann Kennedy, a theoretical neuroscientist at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. They are “critical to survival, and under selective pressure”, she says. By studying these natural actions, scientists are hoping to glean lessons about the brain and behaviour that are more holistic and more relevant to everyday activity than ever before.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28822 - Posted: 06.14.2023

Emily Waltz Researchers have been exploring whether zapping a person’s brain with electrical current through electrodes on their scalp can improve cognition.Credit: J.M. Eddin/Military Collection/Alamy After years of debate over whether non-invasively zapping the brain with electrical current can improve a person’s mental functioning, a massive analysis of past studies offers an answer: probably. But some question that conclusion, saying that the analysis spans experiments that are too disparate to offer a solid answer. In the past six years, the number of studies testing the therapeutic effects of a class of techniques called transcranial electrical stimulation has skyrocketed. These therapies deliver a painless, weak electrical current to the brain through electrodes placed externally on the scalp. The goal is to excite, disrupt or synchronize signals in the brain to improve function. Researchers have tested transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) and its sister technology, tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), on both healthy volunteers and those with neuropsychiatric conditions, such as depression, Parkinson’s disease or addiction. But study results have been conflicting or couldn’t be replicated, leading researchers to question the efficacy of the tools. The authors of the new analysis, led by Robert Reinhart, director of the cognitive and clinical neuroscience laboratory at Boston University in Massachusetts, say they compiled the report to quantify whether tACS shows promise, by comparing more than 100 studies of the technique, which applies an oscillating current to the brain. “We have to address whether or not this technique is actually working, because in the literature, you have a lot of conflicting findings,” says Shrey Grover, a cognitive neuroscientist at Boston University and an author on the paper. © 2023 Springer Nature Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 3: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 28807 - Posted: 05.31.2023

By Yasemin Saplakoglu Memories are shadows of the past but also flashlights for the future. Our recollections guide us through the world, tune our attention and shape what we learn later in life. Human and animal studies have shown that memories can alter our perceptions of future events and the attention we give them. “We know that past experience changes stuff,” said Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. “How exactly that happens isn’t always clear.” A new study published in the journal Science Advances now offers part of the answer. Working with snails, researchers examined how established memories made the animals more likely to form new long-term memories of related future events that they might otherwise have ignored. The simple mechanism that they discovered did this by altering a snail’s perception of those events. The researchers took the phenomenon of how past learning influences future learning “down to a single cell,” said David Glanzman, a cell biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles who was not involved in the study. He called it an attractive example “of using a simple organism to try to get understanding of behavioral phenomena that are fairly complex.” Although snails are fairly simple creatures, the new insight brings scientists a step closer to understanding the neural basis of long-term memory in higher-order animals like humans. Though we often aren’t aware of the challenge, long-term memory formation is “an incredibly energetic process,” said Michael Crossley, a senior research fellow at the University of Sussex and the lead author of the new study. Such memories depend on our forging more durable synaptic connections between neurons, and brain cells need to recruit a lot of molecules to do that. To conserve resources, a brain must therefore be able to distinguish when it’s worth the cost to form a memory and when it’s not. That’s true whether it’s the brain of a human or the brain of a “little snail on a tight energetic budget,” he said. All Rights Reserved © 2023

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 28787 - Posted: 05.18.2023

John Katsaras Charles Patrick Collier Dima Bolmatov Your brain is responsible for controlling most of your body’s activities. Its information processing capabilities are what allow you to learn, and it is the central repository of your memories. But how is memory formed, and where is it located in the brain? Although neuroscientists have identified different regions of the brain where memories are stored, such as the hippocampus in the middle of the brain, the neocortex in the top layer of the brain and the cerebellum at the base of the skull, they have yet to identify the specific molecular structures within those areas involved in memory and learning. Research from our team of biophysicists, physical chemists and materials scientists suggests that memory might be located in the membranes of neurons. Neurons are the fundamental working units of the brain. They are designed to transmit information to other cells, enabling the body to function. The junction between two neurons, called a synapse, and the chemistry that takes place between synapses, in the space called the synaptic cleft, are responsible for learning and memory. At a more fundamental level, the synapse is made of two membranes: one associated with the presynaptic neuron that transmits information, and one associated with the postsynaptic neuron that receives information. Each membrane is made up of a lipid bilayer containing proteins and other biomolecules. The changes taking place between these two membranes, commonly known as synaptic plasticity, are the primary mechanism for learning and memory. These include changes to the amounts of different proteins in the membranes, as well as the structure of the membranes themselves.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 3: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 28777 - Posted: 05.10.2023

By Kate Golembiewski On the one hand, this headgear looks like something a cyberfish would wear. On the other, it’s not far from a fashion statement someone at the Kentucky Derby might make. But scientists didn’t just affix this device for laughs: They are curious about the underlying brain mechanisms that allow fish to navigate their world, and how such mechanisms relate to the evolutionary roots of navigation for all creatures with brain circuitry. “Navigation is an extremely important aspect of behavior because we navigate to find food, to find shelter, to escape predators,” said Ronen Segev, a neuroscientist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel who was part of a team that fitted 15 fish with cybernetic headgear for a study published on Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology. Putting a computer on a goldfish to study how the neurons fire in its brain while navigating wasn’t easy. It takes a careful hand because a goldfish’s brain, which looks a bit like a small cluster of lentils, is only half an inch long. “Under a microscope, we exposed the brain and put the electrodes inside,” said Lear Cohen, a neuroscientist and doctoral candidate at Ben-Gurion who performed the surgeries to attach the devices. Each of those electrodes was the diameter of a strand of human hair. It was also tricky to find a way to perform the procedure on dry land without harming the test subject. “The fish needs water and you need him not to move,” he said. He and his colleagues solved both problems by pumping water and anesthetics into the fish’s mouth. Once the electrodes were in the brain, they were connected to a small recording device, which could monitor neuronal activity and which was sealed in a waterproof case, mounted on the fish’s forehead. To keep the computer from weighing the fish down and impeding its ability to swim, the researchers attached buoyant plastic foam to the device. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28756 - Posted: 04.26.2023

Nicola Davis Science correspondent From squabbling over who booked a disaster holiday to differing recollections of a glorious wedding, events from deep in the past can end up being misremembered. But now researchers say even recent memories may contain errors. Scientists exploring our ability to recall shapes say people can make mistakes after just a few seconds – a phenomenon the team have called short-term memory illusions. “Even at the shortest term, our memory might not be fully reliable,” said Dr Marte Otten, the first author of the research from the University of Amsterdam. “Particularly when we have strong expectations about how the world should be, when our memory starts fading a little bit – even after one and a half seconds, two seconds, three seconds – then we start filling in based on our expectations.” Writing in the journal Plos One, Otten and colleagues note previous research has shown that when people are presented with a rotated or mirror-image letter, they often report seeing the letter in its correct orientation. While this had previously been put down to participants mis-seeing the shape, Otten and colleagues had doubts. “We thought that they are more likely to be a memory effect. So you saw it correctly, but as soon as you commit it to memory stuff starts going wrong,” said Otten. To investigate further, the researchers carried out four experiments. In the first, participants were screened to ensure they were able to complete basic visual memory tasks before being presented with a circle of six or eight letters, one or two of which were mirror-image forms. After a matter of seconds, participants were shown a second circle of letters which they were instructed to ignore – this acted as a distraction. They were then asked to select, from a series of options, a target shape that had been at particular location in the first circle, and rate their confidence in this choice. © 2023 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28730 - Posted: 04.09.2023

By Erin Garcia de Jesús Forget screwdrivers or drills. A stick and a straw make for a great cockatoo tool kit. Some Goffin’s cockatoos (Cacatua goffiniana) know whether they need to have more than one tool in claw to topple an out-of-reach cashew, researchers report February 10 in Current Biology. By recognizing that two items are necessary to access the snack, the birds join chimpanzees as the only nonhuman animals known to use tools as a set. The study is a fascinating example of what cockatoos are capable of, says Anne Clark, a behavioral ecologist at Binghamton University in New York, who was not involved in the study. A mental awareness that people often attribute to our close primate relatives can also pop up elsewhere in the animal kingdom. A variety of animals including crows and otters use tools but don’t deploy multiple objects together as a kit (SN: 9/14/16; SN: 3/21/17). Chimpanzees from the Republic of Congo’s Noubalé-Ndoki National Park, on the other hand, recognize the need for both a sharp stick to break into termite mounds and a fishing stick to scoop up an insect feast (SN: 10/19/04). Researchers knew wild cockatoos could use three different sticks to break open fruit in their native range of Indonesia. But it was unclear whether the birds might recognize the sticks as a set or instead as a chain of single tools that became necessary as new problems arose, says evolutionary biologist Antonio Osuna Mascaró of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2023.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 28663 - Posted: 02.11.2023