Hippocampal Activity in Memory Processing

Type of project: Basic, Mind and Body

Principal Investigator: Dr. Clayton Dickson

Institutions Affiliated: University of Alberta

Students: Jeremy Viczko(UGRAD), Ty McKinney (UGRAD), Jonathan Dubue (UGRAD), Brandon Hauer (UGRAD)

Awards funded to project: 3

Background: The hippocampus is the brain region important for forming new memories as well as retrieving old ones. Long term memory was previously thought to depend on the formation of new proteins, but recent evidence has suggested that the computational aspects of the hippocampus might be more important for understanding memory.

Findings: Two studies have explored the impact of inhibiting either all protein synthesis or a specific protein thought to maintain memory (PKMzeta). Both studies have shown that inhibiting intracellular protein function has detrimental effects for neural activity (how neuron’s fire and process information), suggesting that rather than trying to change memory processing through pharmacological mechanisms we instead try to change the way the neurons fire. A third study explored the role of breathing in potentially modulating that activity, but the final conclusion was that breathing did not affect how the hippocampus processes memory.

Implications: The implications of this project are two fold. First it shows that pharmacological methods to change behaviour have side effects that can compromise their efficacy, suggesting that alternative methods of influencing behaviour be explored. Second, these results give insight into the nature of neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change itself), which could be a very useful tool in helping change maladaptive behaviours and thought processes.