Figuring out how to pedal a bike and memorizing the rules of chess require two different types of learning, and now for the first time, researchers have been able to distinguish each type of learning by the brain-wave patterns it produces.
Kay M. Tye, the Whitehead Career Development Assistant Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and member of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, was awarded the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for her project Neural Circuit Mechanisms of Social Homeostasis in Individuals and Supraorganismal Groups. The award supports investigators to pursue new research directions and develop groundbreaking, high-impact approaches to a broad area of biomedical or behavioral science.
When we have a new experience, the memory of that event is stored in a neural circuit that connects several parts of the hippocampus and other brain structures. Each cluster of neurons may store different aspects of the memory, such as the location where the event occurred or the emotions associated with it.
In the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, many of the genes required to form new memories are shut down by a genetic blockade, contributing to the cognitive decline seen in those patients.
MIT researchers have now shown that they can reverse that memory loss in mice by interfering with the enzyme that forms the blockade. The enzyme, known as HDAC2, turns genes off by condensing them so tightly that they can’t be expressed.
Many cognitive processes, such as decision-making, take place within seconds or minutes. Neuroscientists have longed to capture neuron activity during such tasks, but that dream has remained elusive — until now.