Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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By Gretchen Reynolds When we start to lift weights, our muscles do not strengthen and change at first, but our nervous systems do, according to a fascinating new study in animals of the cellular effects of resistance training. The study, which involved monkeys performing the equivalent of multiple one-armed pull-ups, suggests that strength training is more physiologically intricate than most of us might have imagined and that our conception of what constitutes strength might be too narrow. Those of us who join a gym — or, because of the current pandemic restrictions and concerns, take up body-weight training at home — may feel some initial disappointment when our muscles do not rapidly bulge with added bulk. In fact, certain people, including some women and most preadolescent children, add little obvious muscle mass, no matter how long they lift. But almost everyone who starts weight training soon becomes able to generate more muscular force, meaning they can push, pull and raise more weight than before, even though their muscles may not look any larger and stronger. Scientists have known for some time that these early increases in strength must involve changes in the connections between the brain and muscles. The process appears to involve particular bundles of neurons and nerve fibers that carry commands from the brain’s motor cortex, which controls muscular contractions, to the spinal cord and, from there, to the muscles. If those commands become swifter and more forceful, the muscles on the receiving end should respond with mightier contractions. Functionally, they would be stronger. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27343 - Posted: 07.02.2020

Jason Bruck Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect. To better understand how people influence the overall health of dolphins, my colleagues and I at Oklahoma State University’s Unmanned Systems Research Institute are developing a drone to collect samples from the spray that comes from their blowholes. Using these samples, we will learn more about these animals’ health, which can aid in their conservation. Today, researchers wanting to measure wild dolphins’ health primarily use remote biopsy darting – where researchers use a small dart to collect a sample of tissue – or handle the animals in order to collect samples. These methods don’t physically harm the animals, but despite precautions, they can be disruptive and stressful for dolphins. Additionally, this process is challenging, time-consuming and expensive. My current research focus is on dolphin perception – how they see, hear and sense the world. Using my experience, I am part of a team building a drone specifically designed to be an improvement over current sampling methods, both for dolphins and the researchers. Our goal is to develop a quiet drone that can fly into a dolphin’s blind spot and collect samples from the mucus that is mixed with water and air sprayed out of a dolphin’s blowhole when they exhale a breath. This is called the blow. Dolphins would experience less stress and teams could collect more samples at less expense. © 2010–2020, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 27342 - Posted: 07.02.2020

By Melinda Wenner Moyer For three months, Chelsea Alionar has struggled with fevers, headaches, dizziness and a brain fog so intense it feels like early dementia. She came down with the worst headache of her life on March 9, then lost her sense of taste and smell. She eventually tested positive for the coronavirus. But her symptoms have been stranger, and lasted longer, than most. “I tell the same stories repeatedly; I forget words I know,” she told me. Her fingers and toes have been numb, her vision blurry and her fatigue severe. The 37-year-old is a one of the more than 4,000 members of a Facebook support group for Covid survivors who have been ill for more than 80 days. The more we learn about the coronavirus, the more we realize it’s not just a respiratory infection. The virus can ravage many of the body’s major organ systems, including the brain and central nervous system. Among patients hospitalized for Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, more than a third experienced nervous system symptoms, including seizures and impaired consciousness. Earlier this month, French researchers reported that 84 percent of Covid patients who had been admitted to the I.C.U. experienced neurological problems, and that 33 percent continued to act confused and disoriented when they were discharged. According to Dr. Mady Hornig, a psychiatrist and epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the possibility that neurological issues “will persist and create disability, or difficulties, for individuals downstream is really looking more and more likely.” Infections have long been implicated in neurological diseases. Syphilis and H.I.V. can induce dementia. Zika is known to invade developing brains and limit their growth, while untreated Lyme disease can cause nerve pain, facial palsy and spinal cord inflammation. One man with SARS developed delirium that progressed into coma, and was found to have the virus in his brain tissue after his death. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27335 - Posted: 06.29.2020

By Jack J. Lee For some bottlenose dolphins, finding a meal may be about who you know. Dolphins often learn how to hunt from their mothers. But when it comes to at least one foraging trick, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia’s Shark Bay pick up the behavior from their peers, researchers argue in a report published online June 25 in Current Biology. While previous studies have suggested that dolphins learn from peers, this study is the first to quantify the importance of social networks over other factors, says Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany. Cetaceans — dolphins, whales and porpoises — are known for using clever strategies to round up meals. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off Alaska sometimes use their fins and circular bubble nets to catch fish (SN: 10/15/19). At Shark Bay, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) use sea sponges to protect their beaks while rooting for food on the seafloor, a strategy the animals learn from their mothers (SN: 6/8/05). These Shark Bay dolphins also use a more unusual tool-based foraging method called shelling. A dolphin will trap underwater prey in a large sea snail shell, poke its beak into the shell’s opening, lift the shell above the water’s surface and shake the contents into its mouth. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2020.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 27328 - Posted: 06.26.2020

Tracking the brain’s reaction to virtual-reality-simulated threats such as falling rocks and an under-researched fear reduction strategy may provide better ways of treating anxiety disorders and preventing relapses. Hippocrates described them as ‘masses of terrors,’ while French physicians in the 18th century labelled them as ‘vapours’ and ‘melancholia.’ Nowadays we know that panic attacks, a common symptom of anxiety, can be linked to intense phobias or even a general anxiety disorder with no specific source. ‘But if you’re not sure what a panic attack is, it’s very frightening,’ said Dr Iris Lange, a psychologist based at KU Leuven, in Belgium. ‘You probably think you will get a heart attack. We see a lot of people having to go to the medical emergency services.’ According to an EU and OECD report from 2018, anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder across European Union countries and affect an estimated 25 million people. Decades of research have shown how anxiety amplifies sensitivity to threats. People with high anxiety will perceive even non-harmful things, such as insects, as potential threats. However, researchers have until recently used mice and rat experiments to understand the neuroscientific concepts of how anxiety patients behave when defending themselves from such perceived threats. ‘We are translating concepts that are probably not translatable (to humans), or we're just translating very core concepts,’ said Professor Dominik R Bach, a neuroscientist at University College London, in the UK.

Keyword: Stress; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27305 - Posted: 06.17.2020

Natalie Dombois for Quanta Magazine It’s not surprising that the fruit fly larva in the laboratory of Jimena Berni crawls across its large plate of agar in search of food. “A Drosophila larva is either eating or not eating, and if it’s not eating, it wants to eat,” she said. The surprise is that this larva can search for food at all. Owing to a suite of genetic tricks performed by Berni, it has no functional brain. In fact, the systems that normally relay sensations of touch and feedback from its muscles have also been shut down. Berni, an Argentinian neuroscientist whose investigations of fruit fly nervous systems recently earned her a group leader position at the University of Sussex, is learning what the tiny cluster of neurons that directly controls the larva’s muscles does when it’s allowed to run free, entirely without input from the brain or senses. How does the animal forage when it’s cut off from information about the outside world? The answer is that it moves according to a very particular pattern of random movements, a finding that thrilled Berni and her collaborator David Sims, a professor of marine ecology at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, U.K. For in its prowl for food, this insensate maggot behaves exactly like an animal Sims has studied for more than 25 years — a shark. In neuroscience, the usual schema for considering behavior has it that the brain receives inputs, combines them with stored information, then decides what to do next. This corresponds to our own intuitions and experiences, because we humans are almost always responding to what we sense and remember. But for many creatures, useful information isn’t always available, and for them something else may also be going on. When searching their environment, sharks and a diverse array of other species, now including fruit fly larvae, sometimes default to the same pattern of movement, a specific type of random motion called a Lévy walk. All Rights Reserved © 2020

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 27301 - Posted: 06.13.2020

Ruth Williams In the hippocampus of the adult mouse brain, newly formed cells that become activated by a learning experience are later reactivated in the REM phase of sleep, according to a study in Neuron today (June 4). The authors show this reactivation is necessary for fortifying the encoding of the memory. “It is a very cool paper,” writes neuroscientist Sheena Josselyn of the University of Toronto in an email to The Scientist. “This is the first study to causally link new neurons to sleep-dependent memory consolidation. I am sure it will have a broad impact on scientists studying memory, sleep as well as those interested in adult neurogenesis,” she says. Josselyn was not involved in the study. In the adult mammalian brain, most cells do not replicate. But, deep in the center of the organ, in a particular region of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, new neurons continue to be born at a slow rate throughout the lifetime of the animal. This neurogenesis is thought to be important for memory formation among other cognitive tasks. Indeed, if the activities of mouse adult-born neurons (ABNs) are perturbed during a learning experience, the animal will not memorize the event as effectively as it does when these cells are left alone. Learning is just one part of forming a memory, however. For memories to last, sleep, and in particular REM sleep, is essential. “Sleep deprivation generally decreases neurogenesis,” writes neuroscientist Masanori Sakaguchi of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine at the University of Tsukuba in an email to The Scientist. The question was, says Sakaguchi, “is there any function of adult-born neurons during sleep?” To find out, Sakaguchi’s team first examined the activity of mouse ABNs after a learning experience—a contextual fear conditioning in which the animals’ feet were shocked as they explored a particular cage—and during subsequent sleep. Using miniaturized microscopes attached to the skulls of freely moving mice and fluorescent markers to track ABN activities, the team showed that the ABNs that had been activated after the context-shock learning event were more likely to then be reactivated during the animals’ next REM phases of sleep. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Neurogenesis; Sleep
Link ID: 27298 - Posted: 06.10.2020

By Amanda Heidt Human beings typically don’t leave the nest until well into our teenage years—a relatively rare strategy among animals. But corvids—a group of birds that includes jays, ravens, and crows—also spend a lot of time under their parents’ wings. Now, in a parallel to humans, researchers have found that ongoing tutelage by patient parents may explain how corvids have managed to achieve their smarts. Corvids are large, big-brained birds that often live in intimate social groups of related and unrelated individuals. They are known to be intelligent—capable of using tools, recognizing human faces, and even understanding physics—and some researchers believe crows may rival apes for smarts. Meanwhile, humans continue to grow their big brains and build up their cognitive abilities during childhood, as their parents feed and protect them. “Humans are characterized by this extended childhood that affects our intelligence, but we can’t be the only ones,” says Natalie Uomini, a cognitive scientist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. But few researchers have studied the impact of parenting throughout the juvenile years on intelligence in nonhumans. To study the link between parental care and intelligence in birds, Uomini and her team created a database detailing the life history of thousands of species, including more than 120 corvids. Compared with other birds, they found corvids spend more time in the nest before fledging, more days feeding their offspring as adults, and more of their life living among family. The results, reported last week in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, also confirm corvids have unusually large brains compared with many other birds. Birds need to be light for flight, but a raven’s brain accounts for almost 2% of its body mass, a value similar to humans. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 27295 - Posted: 06.09.2020

Ruth Williams With their tiny brains and renowned ability to memorize nectar locations, honeybees are a favorite model organism for studying learning and memory. Such research has indicated that to form long-term memories—ones that last a day or more—the insects need to repeat a training experience at least three times. By contrast, short- and mid-term memories that last seconds to minutes and minutes to hours, respectively, need only a single learning experience. Exceptions to this rule have been observed, however. For example, in some studies, bees formed long-lasting memories after a single learning event. Such results are often regarded as circumstantial anomalies, and the memories formed are not thought to require protein synthesis, a molecular feature of long-term memories encoded by repeated training, says Martin Giurfa of the University of Toulouse. But the anomalous findings, together with research showing that fruit flies and ants can form long-term memories after single experiences, piqued Giurfa’s curiosity. Was it possible that honeybees could reliably do the same, and if so, what molecular mechanisms were required? Giurfa reasoned that the ability to form robust memories might depend on the particular type of bee and the experience. Within a honeybee colony, there are nurses, who clean the hive and feed the young; guards, who patrol and protect the hive; and foragers, who search for nectar. Whereas previous studies have tested bees en masse, Giurfa and his colleagues focused on foragers, tasking them with remembering an experience relevant to their role: an odor associated with a sugary reward. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 27272 - Posted: 06.01.2020

Diana Kwon What if you could boost your brain’s processing capabilities simply by sticking electrodes onto your head and flipping a switch? Berkeley, California–based neurotechnology company Humm has developed a device that it claims serves that purpose. Their “bioelectric memory patch” is designed to enhance working memory—the type of short-term memory required to temporarily hold and process information—by noninvasively stimulating the brain. In recent years, neurotechnology companies have unveiled direct-to-consumer (DTC) brain stimulation devices that promise a range of benefits, including enhancing athletic performance, increasing concentration, and reducing depression. Humm’s memory patch, which resembles a large, rectangular Band-Aid, is one such product. Users can stick the device to their forehead and toggle a switch to activate it. Electrodes within the patch generate transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), a method of noninvasively zapping the brain with oscillating waves of electricity. The company recommends 15 minutes of stimulation to give users up to “90 minutes of boosted learning” immediately after using the device. The product is set for public release in 2021. Over the last year or so, Humm has generated much excitement among investors, consumers, and some members of the scientific community. In addition to raising several million dollars in venture capital funding, the company has drawn interest both from academic research labs and from the United States military. According to Humm cofounder and CEO Iain McIntyre, the US Air Force has ordered approximately 1,000 patches to use in a study at their training academy that is set to start later this year. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27269 - Posted: 05.29.2020

Alejandra Manjarrez The brain is a master of forming patterns, even when it involves events occurring at different times. Take the phenomenon of trace fear conditioning—scientists can get an animal to notice the relationship between a neutral stimulus and an aversive stimulus separated by a temporal chasm (the trace) of a few or even tens of seconds. While it’s a well-established protocol in neuroscience and psychology labs, the mechanism for how the brain bridges the time gap between two related stimuli in order to associate them is “one of the most enigmatic and highly investigated” questions, says Columbia University neuroscientist Attila Losonczy. If the first stimulus is finished, the information about its presence and identity “should be somehow maintained through some neuronal mechanism,” he explains, so it can be associated with the second stimulus coming later. Losonczy and his colleagues have recently investigated how this might occur in a study published May 8 in Neuron. They measured the neural activity in the hippocampal CA1 region of the brain—known to be crucial for the formation of memories—of mice exposed to trace fear conditioning. The team found that associating the two events separated by time involved the activation of a subset of neurons that fired sparsely every time mice received the first stimulus and during the time gap that followed. The pattern emerged only after mice had learned to associate both stimuli. The study highlights “the important question of how we link memories across time,” says Denise Cai, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who was not involved in the work. Studying the basic mechanisms of temporal association is critical for understanding how it goes wrong in disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Alzheimer’s disease, she says. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Stress
Link ID: 27254 - Posted: 05.18.2020

Sukanya Charuchandra Even for Darold Treffert, an expert in the study of savants who has met around 300 people with conditions such as autism who possess extraordinary mental abilities, Kim Peek stood out from the pack. Treffert first spoke with Peek on the phone in the 1980s. Peek asked Treffert for his date of birth and then proceeded to recount historical events that had taken place on that day and during that week, Treffert says. This display of recall left Treffert with no doubt that Peek was a savant. Peek’s abilities dazzled screenwriter Barry Morrow when the two men met in 1984 at a committee meeting of the Association for Retarded Citizens. Morrow went on to pen the script for the 1988 film Rain Man, basing Dustin Hoffman’s character on Peek. The concept of savant syndrome dates back to 1887, when physician J. Langdon Down coined the term “idiot savant” for persons who showed low IQ but superlative artistic, musical, mathematical, or other skills. (At the time, the word “idiot” denoted low IQ and was not considered insulting.) Nine months after Peek was born in 1951, a doctor told his family “that Kim was retarded, and they should put him in an institution and forget about him,” says Treffert. “Another doctor suggested a lobotomy, which fortunately they didn’t carry out.” Instead, his parents raised him at home in Utah where he raced through books, memorizing them. Despite his feats of memory and other abilities, such as performing impressive calculations in his head, Peek never learned to carry out many everyday tasks, such as dressing himself. MRIs would later reveal that Peek had abnormalities in the left hemisphere of his brain and was missing a corpus callosum, which controls communication between the two cerebral hemispheres. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27251 - Posted: 05.18.2020

By Rachel Love Nuwer The renowned biologist E.O. Wilson once quipped, “When you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all.” The diversity of the world’s 10,000-plus bird species is truly staggering, ranging from 2.5-inch-long hummingbirds that weigh as little as a dime, to 9-foot ostriches that can kick hard enough to kill a human. For decades, though, scientists generally thought of birds as conforming to a single set of rules: Females are drab and silent, while males are flashy and boisterous. Pairs are monogamous, and in the rare event of philandering, the male always initiates. Above all, this thinking posited that all birds are automatons, with pint-sized brains that constrain intelligence. Like many presumptions humans make about nature and other species, the truth turns out to be much more complex and fascinating than we ever imagined, according to science journalist Jennifer Ackerman in “The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think.” A new wave of research is not only dispelling old assumptions and showing that birds do not conform to sweeping generalizations, but also revealing that they are capable of nuanced, highly intelligent behaviors that we once believed to be uniquely human (or at least belonging solely to a few fellow mammals). Ackerman walks readers through the most extreme, surprising, and thought-provoking examples of recently uncovered bird behavior. She draws on hundreds of scientific studies and dozens of interviews and field visits with leading ornithologists to lay out the new revelations, from findings that choughs kidnap and enslave young from other groups (the only record of this disturbing act outside of humans and ants), to the discovery that palm cockatoos build their own musical instruments. The result is a book written for true nature and bird lovers — as well as those interested in the origins of intelligence, sociability, deception, altruism, innovation, language, and many of the other attributes at the heart of what we consider to be human.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 27249 - Posted: 05.16.2020

Diana Kwon As Earth rotates around its axis, the organisms that inhabit its surface are exposed to daily cycles of darkness and light. In animals, light has a powerful influence on sleep, hormone release, and metabolism. Work by Takaomi Sakai, a neuroscientist at Tokyo Metropolitan University, and his team suggests that light may also be crucial for forming and maintaining long-term memories. The puzzle of how memories persist in the brain has long been of interest to Sakai. Researchers had previously demonstrated, in both rodents and flies, that the production of new proteins is necessary for maintaining long-term memories, but Sakai wondered how this process persisted over several days given cells’ molecular turnover. Maybe, he thought, an environmental stimulus, such as the light-dark cycles, periodically triggered protein production to enable memory formation and storage. Sakai and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments to see how constant darkness would affect the ability of Drosophila melanogaster to form long-term memories. Male flies exposed to light after interacting with an unreceptive female showed reduced courtship behaviors toward new female mates several days later, indicating they had remembered the initial rejection. Flies kept in constant darkness, however, continued their attempts to copulate. The team then probed the molecular mechanisms of these behaviors and discovered a pathway by which light activates cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB)—a transcription factor previously identified as important for forming long-term memories—within certain neurons found in the mushroom bodies, the memory center in fly brains. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 27248 - Posted: 05.16.2020

Ashley Yeager Nearly seven years ago, Sheena Josselyn and her husband Paul Frankland were talking with their two-year-old daughter and started to wonder why she could easily remember what happened over the last day or two but couldn’t recall events that had happened a few months before. Josselyn and Frankland, both neuroscientists at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in Toronto, suspected that maybe neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, could be involved in this sort of forgetfulness. In humans and other mammals, neurogenesis happens in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in learning and memory, tying the generation of new neurons to the process of making memories. Josselyn and Frankland knew that in infancy, the brain makes a lot of new neurons, but that neurogenesis slows with age. Yet youngsters have more trouble making long-term memories than adults do, a notion that doesn’t quite jibe with the idea that the principal function of neurogenesis is memory formation. To test the connection between neurogenesis and forgetting, the researchers put mice in a box and shocked their feet with an electric current, then returned the animals to their home cages and either let them stay sedentary or had them run on a wheel, an activity that boosts neurogenesis. Six weeks later, the researchers put the mice back in the box where they had received the shocks. There, the sedentary mice froze in fear, anticipating a shock, but the mice that had run on a wheel didn’t show signs of anxiety. It was as if the wheel-running mice had forgotten they’d been shocked before. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Glia
Link ID: 27245 - Posted: 05.14.2020

Amy Schleunes When Lilian Kloft stumbled across a 2015 study showing a connection between cannabis use and susceptibility to false memories, she found herself wondering about the legal implications of the results. The study had discovered that heavy users of cannabis were more likely than controls to form false memories—recollections of events that never occurred, for example, or warped memories of events that did—even when they were not at the moment “high.” This kind of false remembering can pose difficulties for people gathering reliable testimony in the event of a crime, says Kloft, a PhD student in psychopharmacology and forensic psychology at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Consequently, the growing acceptance of cannabis worldwide raises questions not only about how the drug affects memory, but also about how law enforcement officials should conduct interviews with suspects, victims, and witnesses who may be under the influence or regular users of the drug. In order to further investigate the connection between cannabis and false memory formation, Kloft and collaborators recruited 64 volunteers for a series of experiments. Participants, who were occasional cannabis users, were given a vaporizer containing either cannabis or a hemp placebo and then told to inhale deeply and hold their breath for 10 seconds. After that, the researchers tested them in three different tasks designed to induce false memories. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27244 - Posted: 05.12.2020

By Godfrey Pearlson Around the world, about 188 million people use marijuana every year. The drug has been legalized for recreational use in 11 U.S. states, and it may eventually become legal at the federal level. In a Gallup survey conducted last summer, 12 percent of American adults reported that they smoked marijuana, including 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds. Those are the stats. The consequences remain a mystery. As access to marijuana increases—and while acceptance of the drug grows and perception of its harmfulness diminishes—it is important to consider the potential for long-term ill effects, especially in users who start young. One of marijuana’s best-documented consequences is short-lived interference with memory. The substance makes it harder to get information into memory and, subsequently, to access it, with larger doses causing progressively more problems. Much less documented, however, is whether the drug has lasting effects on cognitive abilities. Finding the answer to that question is essential. Depending on the severity of any such effects and their persistence, marijuana use could have significant downstream impacts on education, employment, job performance and income. There are plausible reasons why the teenage brain may be especially vulnerable to the effects of marijuana use. Natural cannabinoids play an essential role in brain cell migration and development from fetal life onward. And adolescence is a crucial age for finalizing brain sculpting and white matter proliferation. The hippocampi, paired structures in the temporal lobe that are crucial in the formation of new memories, are studded with cannabinoid receptors. THC, the main ingredient behind marijuana’s “high,” acts on the brain’s cannabinoid receptors to mimic some of the effects of the body’s endogenous cannabinoids, such as anandamide. The compound’s effects are more persistent and nonphysiological, however. It may be throwing important natural processes out of balance. © 2020 Scientific American,

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27237 - Posted: 05.08.2020

Ashley Yeager In the spring of 2019, neuroscientist Heather Cameron set up a simple experiment. She and her colleagues put an adult rat in the middle of a plastic box with a water bottle at one end. They waited until the rat started drinking and then made a startling noise to see how the animal would respond. The team did this repeatedly with regular rats and with animals that were genetically altered so that they couldn’t make new neurons in their hippocampuses, a brain region involved in learning and memory. When the animals heard the noise, those that could make new hippocampal neurons immediately stopped slurping water and looked around, but the animals lacking hippocampal neurogenesis kept drinking. When the team ran the experiment without the water bottle, both sets of rats looked around right away to figure out where the sound was coming from. Rats that couldn’t make new neurons seemed to have trouble shifting their attention from one task to another, the researchers concluded. “It’s a very surprising result,” says Cameron, who works at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Researchers studying neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus typically conduct experiments in which animals have had extensive training in a task, such as in a water maze, or have experienced repetitive foot shocks, she explains. In her experiments, the rats were just drinking water. “It seemed like there would be no reason that the hippocampus should have any role,” she says. Yet in animals engineered to lack hippocampal neurogenesis, “the effects are pretty big.” The study joins a growing body of work that challenges the decades-old notion that the primary role of new neurons within the adult hippocampus is in learning and memory. More recently, experiments have tied neurogenesis to forgetting, one possible way to ensure the brain doesn’t become overloaded with information it doesn’t need, and to anxiety, depression, stress, and, as Cameron’s work suggests, attention. Now, neuro-scientists are rethinking the role that new neurons, and the hippocampus as a whole, play in the brain. © 1986–2020 The Scientist.

Keyword: Neurogenesis; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27236 - Posted: 05.06.2020

By Rodrigo Pérez Ortega The left and right sides of our brains store different kinds of memories: The left side specializes in verbal information, for example, while the right side specializes in visual information. But it turns out we’re not the only ones. A new study suggests that ants—like humans, songbirds, and zebrafish—also store different memories in different sides of their tiny brains, in a process called lateralization. Honey bees and bumblebees seem to exhibit lateralization when it comes to memories involving scent. But researchers wanted to know whether other insects were also dividing up the labor of their brains. They trained wood ants (Formica rufa) just as Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov trained his famous dogs—by treating them with food each time they received a certain signal. To find out whether ants stored visual memories in different parts of their brains, the researchers touched the right antenna, the left antenna, or both, of dozens of ants with a sugary droplet each time they looked at a blue object (above). Then, the researchers tested their memories 10 minutes, 1 hour, and 24 hours after the training. They did this by showing them the blue object and observing whether they extended their mouths, a “thirst” response similar to Pavlov’s dogs salivating. Ants trained with the right antenna had strong thirst responses at the 10-minute mark and lingering responses after 1 hour, but not after that. Ants trained with the left antenna had no response at 10 minutes or 1 hour, but appeared thirsty 24 hours after their training. That suggests that one side of the ant brain stores short-term memories, while the other side stores longer-term ones, the researchers write today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Laterality; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27234 - Posted: 05.06.2020

Catherine Offord No matter how he looked at the data, Albert Tsao couldn’t see a pattern. Over several weeks in 2007 and again in 2008, the 19-year-old undergrad trained rats to explore a small trial arena, chucking them pieces of tasty chocolate cereal by way of encouragement. He then recorded the activity of individual neurons in the animals’ brains as they scampered, one at a time, about that same arena. He hoped that the experiment would offer clues as to how the rats’ brains were forming memories, but “the data that it gave us was confusing,” he says. There wasn’t any obvious pattern to the animals’ neural output at all. Then enrolled at Harvey Mudd College in California, Tsao was doing the project as part of a summer internship at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Norway, in a lab that focused on episodic memory—the type of long-term memory that allows humans and other mammals to recall personal experiences (or episodes), such as going on a first date or spending several minutes searching for chocolate. Neuroscientists suspected that the brain organizes these millions of episodes partly according to where they took place. The Kavli Institute’s Edvard Moser and May-Britt Moser had recently made a breakthrough with the discovery of “grid cells,” neurons that generate a virtual spatial map of an area, firing whenever the animal crosses the part of the map that that cell represents. These cells, the Mosers reported, were situated in a region of rats’ brains called the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) that projects many of its neurons into the hippocampus, the center of episodic memory formation. Inspired by the findings, Tsao had opted to study a region right next to the MEC called the lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC), which also feeds into the hippocampus. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 27232 - Posted: 05.05.2020