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Rats recall past to make daily decisions
Date:5/3/2012

UCSF scientists have identified patterns of brain activity in the rat brain that play a role in the formation and recall of memories and decision-making. The discovery, which builds on the team's previous findings, offers a path for studying learning, decision-making and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The researchers previously identified patterns of brain activity in the rat hippocampus, a brain region critical for memory storage. The patterns sometimes represented where an animal was in space, and, at other times, represented fast-motion replays of places the animal had been, but no one knew whether these patterns indicated the process of memory formation and recollection.

In the journal Science this week (online May 3, 2012), the UCSF researchers demonstrated that the brain activity is critical for memory formation and recall. Moreover, they showed that the brain patterns through which the rats see rapid replays of past experiences are fundamental to their ability to make decisions. Disturbing those particular brain patterns impaired the animals' ability to learn rules based on memories of things that had happened in the past.

"We think these memory-replay events are central to understanding how the brain retrieves past experiences and uses them to make decisions," said neuroscientist Loren Frank, PhD, a associate professor of physiology and a member of the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at UCSF, who led the research with Shantanu Jadhav, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow. "They offer insight into how a past experience can have such a profound effect on how we think and feel."

The finding gives scientists a new way to investigate fundamental processes like learning and decision-making in animals and in people. It also may help shed light on memory disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by strong, disturbing and uncontrolled memories.

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Contact: Jason Socrates Bardi
jason.bardi@ucsf.edu
415-502-6397
University of California - San Francisco
Source:Eurekalert  

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