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New MIT tool probes brain circuits
Date:1/24/2008

vigation. In Alzheimer's disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions to suffer damage; memory problems and disorientation are among the disease's first symptoms.

The hippocampus is made up of several regions--CA1, CA3 and the dentate gyrus--that are wired up with distinct pathways.

The MIT study sought to determine how the interactions between neural pathways and the hippocampal regions affect learning and memory tasks.

Imagine that the three hippocampal regions are computers, and neural pathways are the conduits through which the computers get data from all over the brain. The computers perform different tasks, so the types of data processing will depend on which conduits the data travels through.

The hippocampus has two major, parallel information-carrying routes: the tri-synaptic pathway (TSP) and the shorter monosynaptic pathway (MSP). The TSP includes data processing from all three hippocampal regions, whereas the MSP skips through most of them.

Uisng DICE-K, the researchers were surprised to find that mice in which the major TSP pathway was shut down could still learn to navigate a maze. The shorter MSP pathway was sufficient for the job.

However, the maze is a task that is slowly learned over many repeated trials. When the mice were tested with a different task in a new environment that required rapid learning and memory formation, the researchers found that the mice with TSP shut down could not perform the task. Thus, the TSP pathway is required for animals to quickly acquire memories in a new environment. This kind of learning results in the most sophisticated form of memory that makes animals more intelligent and is known to decline with age, Tonegawa said.


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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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