Chapter 17. Learning and Memory
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By Jonathan Webb Science reporter, BBC News A cluster of cells in the brain of a fly can track the animal's orientation like a compass, a study has revealed. Fixed in place on top of a spherical treadmill, a fruit fly walked on the spot while neuroscientists peered into its brain using a microscope. Watching the neurons fire inside a donut-shaped brain region, they saw activity sweep around the ring to match the direction the animal was headed. Mammals have similar "head direction cells" but this is a first for flies. The findings are reported in the journal Nature. Crucially, the compass-like activity took place not only when the animal was negotiating a virtual-reality environment, in which screens gave the illusion of movement, but also when it was left in the dark. "The fly is using a sense of its own motion to pick up which direction it's pointed," said senior author Dr Vivek Jayaraman, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus. In some other insects, such as monarch butterflies and locusts, brain cells have been observed firing in a way that reflects the animal's orientation to the pattern of polarised light in the sky - a "sun compass". But the newly discovered compass in the fly brain works more like the "head directions cells" seen in mammals, which rapidly set up a directional system for the animal based on landmarks in the surrounding scene. "A key thing was incorporating the fly's own movement," Dr Jayaraman told the BBC. "To see that its own motion was relevant to the functioning of this compass - that was something we could only see if we did it in a behaving animal." © 2015 BBC
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20933 - Posted: 05.14.2015
Thomas R. Clandinin & Lisa M. Giocomo An analysis reveals that fruit-fly neurons orient flies relative to cues in the insects' environment, providing evidence that the fly's brain contains a key component for drawing a cognitive map of the insect's surroundings. See Article p.186 Animals need accurate navigational skills as they go about their everyday lives. Many species, from ants to rodents, navigate on the basis of visual landmarks, and this is complemented by path integration, in which neuronal cues about the animal's own motion are used to track its location relative to a starting point. In mammals, these different types of navigation are integrated by neurons called head-direction cells1. In this issue, Seelig and Jayaraman2 (page 186) provide the first evidence that certain neurons in fruit flies have similar properties to head-direction cells, encoding information that orients the insects relative to local landmarks. Head-direction cells act as a neuronal compass that generates a cognitive map of an animal's environment. The activity of each head-direction cell increases as the animal faces a particular direction, with different cells preferentially responding to different directions1, 3. Rather than certain cells always responding to north, south and so on, the direction in which the cells fire is set up arbitrarily when the animal encounters new visual landmarks. The signals are then updated by self-motion cues as the animal navigates. Studying head-direction cells in mammals is challenging because of the complexity of the mammalian brain. By contrast, the small fly brain is a good model for studying neuronal activity. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited.
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20932 - Posted: 05.14.2015
By Emily Underwood We’ve all heard how rats will abandon a sinking ship. But will the rodents attempt to save their companions in the process? A new study shows that rats will, indeed, rescue their distressed pals from the drink—even when they’re offered chocolate instead. They’re also more likely to help when they’ve had an unpleasant swimming experience of their own, adding to growing evidence that the rodents feel empathy. Previous studies have shown that rats will lend distressed companions a helping paw, says Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois who was not involved in the work. In a 2011 study, for example, Mason and colleagues showed that if a rat is trapped in a narrow plastic tube, its unrestrained cagemate will work on the latch until it figures out how to spring the trap. Skeptics, however, have suggested that the rodents help because they crave companionship—not because their fellow rodents were suffering. The new study, by researchers at the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan, puts those doubts to rest, Mason says. For their test of altruistic behavior, the team devised an experimental box with two compartments divided by a transparent partition. On one side of the box, a rat was forced to swim in a pool of water, which it strongly disliked. Although not at risk of drowning—the animal could cling to a ledge—it did have to tread water for up to 5 minutes. The only way the rodent could escape its watery predicament was if a second rat—sitting safe and dry on a platform—pushed open a small round door separating the two sides, letting it climb onto dry land. © 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Gareth Cook Much has been written on the wonders of human memory: the astounding feats of recall, the way memories shape our identity and are shaped by them, memory as a literary theme and a historical one. But what of forgetting? This is the topic of a new book by Douwe Draaisma, author of The Nostalgia Factory and a professor of the history of psychology at the University of Groningen. In Forgetting, Draaisma considers dreaming, amnesia, dementia and all of the ways that our minds — and lives — are shaped by memory’s opposite. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. What is your earliest memory and why, do you suppose, have you not forgotten it? Quite a few early memories in the Netherlands involve bicycles, and mine is no exception. I was two-and-a-half years old when my aunts walked my mother to the train station. They had taken a bike along to transport her bags. I was sitting on the back of the bike. Suddenly the whole procession came to a halt when my foot got caught between the spokes. I’m pretty sure this memory is accurate, since I had to see a doctor and there is a dated medical record. It’s a brief, snapshot-like memory, black-and-white. I don’t remember any pain, but I do remember the consternation among my mom and her sisters. Looking back on this memory from a professional perspective, I would say that it has the flash-like character typical for first memories from before age 3; ‘later’ first memories are usually a bit longer and more elaborate. It also fits the pattern of being about pain and danger. Roughly three in four first memories are associated with negative emotions. This may have an evolutionary origin: I never again had my foot between the spokes. And neither have any of my children. © 2015 Scientific American
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20918 - Posted: 05.13.2015
By Simon Makin After wandering around an unfamiliar part of town, can you sense which direction to travel to get back to the subway or your car? If so, you can thank your entorhinal cortex, a brain area recently identified as being responsible for our sense of direction. Variation in the signals in this area might even explain why some people are better navigators than others. The new work adds to a growing understanding of how our brain knows where we are. Groundbreaking discoveries in this field won last year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for John O'Keefe, a neuroscientist at University College London, who discovered “place cells” in the hippocampus, a brain region most associated with memory. These cells activate when we move into a specific location, so that groups of them form a map of the environment. O'Keefe shared the prize with his former students Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser, both now at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Norway, who discovered “grid cells” in the entorhinal cortex, a region adjacent to the hippocampus. Grid cells have been called the brain's GPS system. They are thought to tell us where we are relative to where we started. A third type—head-direction cells, also found in the entorhinal region—fires when we face a certain direction (such as “toward the mountain”). Together these specialized neurons appear to enable navigation, but precisely how is still unclear. For instance, in addition to knowing which direction we are facing, we need to know which direction to travel. Little was known about how or where such a goal-direction signal might be generated in the brain until the new study. © 2015 Scientific American
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20915 - Posted: 05.13.2015
Jane Brody With people worldwide living longer, marketers are seizing on every opportunity to sell remedies and devices that they claim can enhance memory and other cognitive functions and perhaps stave off dementia as people age. Among them are “all-natural” herbal supplements like Luminene, with ingredients that include the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid, the purported brain stimulant ginkgo biloba, and huperzine A, said to increase levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; brain-training games on computers and smartphones; and all manner of puzzles, including crosswords, sudoku and jigsaw, that give the brain a workout, albeit a sedentary one. Unfortunately, few such potions and gizmos have been proven to have a meaningful, sustainable benefit beyond lining the pockets of their sellers. Before you invest in them, you’d be wise to look for well-designed, placebo-controlled studies that attest to their ability to promote a youthful memory and other cognitive functions. Even the widely acclaimed value of doing crossword puzzles has been called into question, beyond its unmistakable benefit to one’s font of miscellaneous knowledge. Although there is some evidence that doing crosswords may help to delay memory decline, Molly Wagster, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, said they are best done for personal pleasure, not brain health. “People who have done puzzles all their lives have no particular cognitive advantage over anyone else,” she said. The institute is one of several scientific organizations sponsoring rigorous trials of ways to cash in on the brain’s lifelong ability to generate new cells and connections. One such trial, Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, or Active, was a 10-year follow-up study of 2,832 cognitively healthy community-dwelling adults 65 and older. © 2015 The New York Times Company
Andrew Griffin Scientists have created an electronic memory cell that mimics the way that human brains work, potentially unlocking the possibility of the making bionic brains. The cell can process and store multiple bits of information, like the human brain. Scientists hope that developing it could make for artificial cells that simulate the brain’s processes, leading to treatments for neurological conditions and for replica brains that scientists can experiment on. The new cells have been likened to the difference between having an on-off light switch and a dimmer, or the difference between black and white pictures or those with full colour, including shade light and texture. While traditional memory cells for computers can only process one binary thing at a time, the new discovery allows for much more complex memory processes like those found in the brain. They are also able to retain previous information, allowing for artificial systems that have the extraordinary memory powers found in human beings. While the new discovery is a long way from leading to a bionic brain, the discovery is an important step towards the dense and fast memory cells that will be needed to imitate the human brain's processes. “This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Sharath Sriram, who led the project, said.
Douwe Draaisma When we sleep, wrote English psychiatrist Havelock Ellis over a hundred years ago, we enter a ‘dim and ancient house of shadow’. We wander through its rooms, climb staircases, linger on a landing. Towards morning we leave the house again. In the doorway we look over our shoulders briefly and with the morning light flooding in we can still catch a glimpse of the rooms where we spent the night. Then the door closes behind us and a few hours later even those fragmentary memories we had when we woke have been wiped away. That is how it feels. You wake up and still have access to bits of the dream. But as you try to bring the dream more clearly to mind, you notice that even those few fragments are already starting to fade. Sometimes there is even less. On waking you are unable to shake off the impression that you have been dreaming; the mood of the dream is still there, but you no longer know what it was about. Sometimes you are unable to remember anything at all in the morning, not a dream, not a feeling, but later in the day you experience something that causes a fragment of the apparently forgotten dream to pop into your mind. No matter what we may see as we look back through the doorway, most of our dreams slip away and the obvious question is: why? Why is it so hard to hold on to dreams? Why do we have such a poor memory for them? In 1893, American psychologist Mary Calkins published her ‘Statistics of Dreams’, a numerical analysis of what she and her husband dreamed about over a period of roughly six weeks. They both kept candles, matches, pencil and paper in readiness on the bedside table. But dreams are so fleeting, Calkins wrote, that even reaching out for matches was enough to make them disappear. Still with an arm outstretched, she was forced to conclude that the dream had gone. © 2015 Salon Media Group, Inc
|By Michele Solis An individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is overcome with an urge to engage in unproductive habits, such as excessive hand washing or lock checking. Though recognizing these behaviors as irrational, the person remains trapped in a cycle of life-disrupting compulsions. Previous studies found that OCD patients have abnormalities in two different brain systems—one that creates habits and one that plays a supervisory role. Yet whether the anomalies drive habit formation or are instead a consequence of doing an action over and over remained unclear. To resolve this question, a team at the University of Cambridge monitored brain activity while people were actually forming new habits. Lapses in supervision are to blame, the researchers reported in a study published online in December 2014 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. They scanned 37 people with OCD and 33 healthy control subjects while they learned to avoid a mild shock by pressing on a foot pedal. Pressing the pedal became a habit for everyone, but people with OCD continued to press even when the threat of shock was over. Those with OCD showed abnormal activity in the supervisory regions important for goal-directed behavior but not in those responsible for habit formation. The finding suggests that shoring up the goal-directed systems through cognitive training might help people with OCD. The growing understanding of OCD's roots in the brain may also help convince individuals to engage in standard habit-breaking treatments, which expose a person to a trigger but prevent his or her typical response. “It's hard for people to not perform an action that their whole body is telling them to do,” says first author Claire Gillan, now at New York University. “So if you have an awareness that the habit is just a biological slip, then it makes OCD a lot less scary and something you can eventually control.” © 2015 Scientific American
Neuroscientists have discovered brain circuitry for encoding positive and negative learned associations in mice. After finding that two circuits showed opposite activity following fear and reward learning, the researchers proved that this divergent activity causes either avoidance or reward-driven behaviors. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, they used cutting-edge optical-genetic tools to pinpoint these mechanisms critical to survival, which are also implicated in mental illness. “This study exemplifies the power of new molecular tools that can push and pull on the same circuit to see what drives behavior,” explained Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Improved understanding of how such emotional memory works holds promise for solving mysteries of brain circuit disorders in which these mechanisms are disrupted.” NIMH grantee Kay Tye, Ph.D. External Web Site Policy, Praneeth Namburi and Anna Beyeler, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, and colleagues, report their findings April 29, 2015 in the journal Nature. Prior to the new study, scientists suspected involvement of the circuits ultimately implicated, but were stumped by a seeming paradox. A crossroads of convergent circuits in an emotion hub deep in the brain, thebasolateral amygdala, seem to be involved in both fear and reward learning, but how one brain region could orchestrate such opposing behaviors – approach and avoidance – remained an enigma. How might signals find the appropriate path to follow at this fork in the road?
Pete Etchells Over the past few years, there seems to have been a insidious pandemic of nonsense neuroscientific claims creeping into the education system. In 2013, the Wellcome Trust commissioned a series of surveys of parents and teachers, asking about various types of educational tools or teaching methods, and the extent to which they believe they have a basis in neuroscience. Worryingly, 76% of teachers responded that they used learning styles in their teaching, and a further 19% responded that they either use, or intend to use, left brain/right brain distinctions to help inform learning methods. Both of these approaches have been thoroughly debunked, and have no place in either neuroscience or education. In October last year, I reported on another study that showed that in the intervening time, things hadn’t really improved – 91% of UK teachers in that survey believed that there were differences in the way that students think and learn, depending on which hemisphere of the brain is ‘dominant’. And despite lots of great attempts to debunk myths about the brain, they still seem to persist and take up residence as ‘commonplace’ knowledge, being passed onto children as if they are fact. When I wrote about an ATL proposal to train teachers in neuroscience – a well-intended idea, but ultimately grounded in nonsense about left brain/right brain myths – I commented at the end that we need to do more to bring teachers and neuroscientists together, to discuss whether neuroscience has a relevant role in informing the way we teach students. Now, a new initiative funded by the Wellcome Trust is aiming to just that. © 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
By Felicity Muth One of the first things I get asked when I tell people that I work on bee cognition (apart from ‘do you get stung a lot?’) is ‘bees have cognition?’. I usually assume that this question shouldn’t be taken literally otherwise it would mean that whoever was asking me this thought that there was a possibility that bees didn’t have cognition and I had just been making a terrible mistake for the past two years. Instead I guess this question actually means ‘please tell me more about the kind of cognitive abilities bees have, as I am very much surprised to hear that bees can do more than just mindlessly sting people’. So, here it is: a summary of some of the more remarkable things that bees can do with their little brains. In the first part of two articles on this topic, I introduce the history and basics of bee learning. In the second article, I go on to discuss the more advanced cognitive abilities of bees. The study of bee cognition isn’t a new thing. Back in the early 1900s the Austrian scientist Karl von Frisch won the Nobel Prize for his work with honeybees (Apis mellifera). He is perhaps most famous for his research on their remarkable ability to communicate through the waggle dance but he also showed for the first time that honeybees have colour vision and learn the colours of the flowers they visit. Appreciating how he did this is perhaps the first step to understanding everything we know about bee cognition today. Before delving into the cognitive abilities of bees it’s important to think about what kinds of abilities a bee might need, given the environment she lives in (all foraging worker bees are female). Bees are generalists, meaning that they don’t have to just visit one particular flower type for food (nectar and pollen), but can instead visit hundreds of different types. However, not all flowers are the same. © 2015 Scientific American,
By Alix Spiegel In 1979, when Jim Stigler was still a graduate student at the University of Michigan, he went to Japan to research teaching methods and found himself sitting in the back row of a crowded fourth-grade math class. “The teacher was trying to teach the class how to draw three-dimensional cubes on paper,” Stigler explains, “and one kid was just totally having trouble with it. His cube looked all cockeyed, so the teacher said to him, ‘Why don’t you go put yours on the board?’ So right there I thought, ‘That’s interesting! He took the one who can’t do it and told him to go and put it on the board.’ ” Stigler knew that in American classrooms, it was usually the best kid in the class who was invited to the board. And so he watched with interest as the Japanese student dutifully came to the board and started drawing, but still couldn’t complete the cube. Every few minutes, the teacher would ask the rest of the class whether the kid had gotten it right, and the class would look up from their work, and shake their heads no. And as the period progressed, Stigler noticed that he — Stigler — was getting more and more anxious. In Japanese classrooms, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. “I realized that I was sitting there starting to perspire,” he says, “because I was really empathizing with this kid. I thought, ‘This kid is going to break into tears!’ ” © 2015 KQED Inc.
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20820 - Posted: 04.20.2015
By Nicholas Bakalar Breathing problems during sleep may be linked to early mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease, a new study suggests. But treating apnea with a continuous positive airway pressure machine can significantly delay the onset of cognitive problems. In a group of 2,470 people, average age 73, researchers gathered information on the incidence of sleep apnea, a breathing disorder marked by interrupted breathing and snoring, and the incidence of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. After adjusting for a range of variables, they found that people with disordered breathing during sleep became cognitively impaired an average of about 10 years sooner than those without the disorder. But compared with those whose sleep disorder was untreated, those using C.P.A.P. machines delayed the appearance of cognitive impairment by an average of 10 years — making their age of onset almost identical to those who had no sleep disorder at all. The lead author, Dr. Ricardo S. Osorio, a research professor of psychiatry at New York University, said the analysis, published online in Neurology, is an observational study that does not prove cause and effect. “But,” he added, “we need to increase the awareness that sleep disorders can increase the risk for cognitive impairment and possibly for Alzheimer’s. Whether treating sleep disorders truly slows the decline is still not known, but there is some evidence that it might.” © 2015 The New York Times Company
Jon Hamilton There's new evidence that the brain's activity during sleep isn't random. And the findings could help explain why the brain consumes so much energy even when it appears to be resting. "There is something that's going on in a very structured manner during rest and during sleep," says Stanford neurologist Dr. Josef Parvizi, "and that will, of course, require energy consumption." For a long time, scientists dismissed the brain's electrical activity during rest and sleep as meaningless "noise." But then studies using fMRI began to reveal patterns suggesting coordinated activity. To take a closer look, Parvizi and a team of researchers studied three people awaiting surgery for epilepsy. These people spent several days with electrodes in their brains to help locate the source of their seizures. And that meant Parvizi's team was able to monitor the activity of small groups of brain cells in real time. "We wanted to know exactly what's going on during rest," Parvizi says, "and whether or not it reflects what went on during the daytime when the subject was not resting." In the study published online earlier this month in Neuron, the team first studied the volunteers while they were awake and answering simple questions like: Did you drive to work last week? "In order to answer yes or no, you retrieve a lot of facts; you retrieve a lot of visualized memories," Parvizi says. © 2015 NPR
By Megan Griffith-Greene The idea of playing a game to make you sharper seems like a no-brainer. That's the thinking behind a billion-dollar industry selling brain training games and programs designed to boost cognitive ability. But an investigation by CBC's Marketplace reveals that brain training games such as Lumosity may not make your brain perform better in everyday life. Lumosity Brain training games, such as Lumosity, are a billion-dollar industry. Many people are worried about maintaining their brain health and want to prevent a decline in their mental abilities. (CBC) Almost 15 per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 are affected by some kind of dementia. And many people of all ages are worried about maintaining their brain health and possibly preventing a decline in their mental abilities. "I don't think there's anything to say that you can train your brain to be cognitively better in the way that we know that we can train our bodies to be physically better," neuroscientist Adrian Owen told Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington. To test how effective the games are at improving cognitive function, Marketplace partnered with Owen, who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University. A group of 54 adults, including Harrington, did the brain training at least three times per week for 15 minutes or more over a period of between two and a half and four weeks. The group underwent a complete cognitive assessment at the beginning and end of the training to see if there had been any change as the result of the training program. ©2015 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Cari Romm “As humans, we can identify galaxies light-years away. We can study particles smaller than an atom,” President Barack Obama said in April 2013, “But we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.” The observation was part of the president’s announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, an effort to fast-track the development of new technology that will help scientists understand the workings of the human brain and its diseases. With progress, though, comes a whole new set of ethical questions. Can drugs used to treat conditions like ADHD, for example, also be used to make healthy people into sharper, more focused versions of themselves—and should they? Can a person with Alzheimer’s truly consent to testing that may help scientists better understand their disease? Can brain scans submitted as courtroom evidence reveal anything about a defendant’s intent? Can a person with Alzheimer’s truly consent to testing that may help scientists better understand their disease? To address these questions, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, an independent advisory group, recently released the second volume of a report examining the issues that may arise as neuroscience advances. The commission outlined three areas it deemed particularly fraught: cognitive enhancement, consent, and the use of neuroscience in the legal system. © 2015 by The Atlantic Monthly Group
Alison Abbott Historian of psychology Douwe Draaisma knows well how to weave science, history and literature into irresistible tales. Forgetting, his latest collection of essays around the theme of memory, is — like his successful Nostalgia Factory (Yale University Press, 2013) — hard to put down. His vivid tour through the history of memory-repression theories brings home how dangerous and wrong, yet persistent, were the ideas of Sigmund Freud and his intellectual heirs. Freud thought that traumatic memories and shameful thoughts could be driven from the consciousness, but not forgotten. They would simmer in the unconscious, influencing behaviour. He maintained that forcing them out with psychoanalysis, and confronting patients with them, would be curative. Draaisma relates the case of an 18-year-old whom Freud dubbed Dora, diagnosed in 1900 with 'hysteria'. Dora's family refused to believe that the husband of her father's mistress had made sexual advances to her. Among other absurdities, Freud told Dora that her nervous cough reflected her repressed desire to fellate the man. Dora broke off the therapy, which Freud saw as proof of his theory. He thought that patients will naturally resist reawakening painful thoughts. What Dora did not buy, plenty of others did. Psychoanalysis boomed, becoming lucrative. Its principles were adopted in the 1990s by an unlikely alliance of lawyers and some feminists, who argued that repressed memories of childhood abuse could be recovered with techniques such as hypnosis, and used as evidence in court. Many judges went along with it; the rush of claims cast a shadow over genuine cases of abuse, Draaisma points out. We now know from studies of post-traumatic stress disorder that traumatic memories are impossible to repress. They flood into the conscious mind in horrifying flashbacks. © 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20747 - Posted: 04.02.2015
|By Dwayne Godwin and Jorge Cham Our minds are veritable memory machines. © 2015 Scientific American
Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20734 - Posted: 03.31.2015
|By Roni Jacobson As intangible as they may seem, memories have a firm biological basis. According to textbook neuroscience, they form when neighboring brain cells send chemical communications across the synapses, or junctions, that connect them. Each time a memory is recalled, the connection is reactivated and strengthened. The idea that synapses store memories has dominated neuroscience for more than a century, but a new study by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, may fundamentally upend it: instead memories may reside inside brain cells. If supported, the work could have major implications for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition marked by painfully vivid and intrusive memories. More than a decade ago scientists began investigating the drug propranolol for the treatment of PTSD. Propranolol was thought to prevent memories from forming by blocking production of proteins required for long-term storage. Unfortunately, the research quickly hit a snag. Unless administered immediately after the traumatic event, the treatment was ineffective. Lately researchers have been crafting a work-around: evidence suggests that when someone recalls a memory, the reactivated connection is not only strengthened but becomes temporarily susceptible to change, a process called memory reconsolidation. Administering propranolol (and perhaps also therapy, electrical stimulation and certain other drugs) during this window can enable scientists to block reconsolidation, wiping out the synapse on the spot. The possibility of purging recollections caught the eye of David Glanzman, a neurobiologist at U.C.L.A., who set out to study the process in Aplysia, a sluglike mollusk commonly used in neuroscience research. Glanzman and his team zapped Aplysia with mild electric shocks, creating a memory of the event expressed as new synapses in the brain. The scientists then transferred neurons from the mollusk into a petri dish and chemically triggered the memory of the shocks in them, quickly followed by a dose of propranolol. © 2015 Scientific American