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Studying estrogens made by the brain may offer new insights in learning and memory
Date:7/21/2014

nt for cognitive and memory problems related to disease and aging.

The NSF-funded work in young birds will look at how estrogen levels in the brains of juvenile birds affect their song-learning ability, which because of the parallel window of development in humans could shed light on how the hormone affects how children learn speech and language.

"What we sometimes take for granted, our ability to speak and to learn a new language is really an impressive feat," says Remage-Healey. He points out that a rat learning to navigate a maze performs better after an estrogen injection. "In a similar way," he adds, "we are finding that juvenile birds have elevated brain estrogen levels immediately and for about 60 minutes after they hear a new song." This has prompted the hypothesis that brain estrogen production enhances learning of recent experiences during development.

Remage-Healey and colleagues will set up a series of experiments using drugs to up- and down-regulate estrogen in the auditory cortex to determine whether certain treatments have an effect on the birds' ability to learn song. They will also use electrophysiology to record from neurons to assess whether memory consolidation is enhanced by estrogens. "For birds, maintaining your own song is an active, ongoing process. We'll explore whether early tutoring plus estrogen manipulations have consequences for song learning," the neuroscientist notes.

In the NIH-funded studies, the researchers will explore the idea that estradiol in the auditory cortex enhances the representation of sounds in adults, which is transmitted to sensorimotor parts of the brain. "We can modulate the auditory cortex and see downstream effects in the sensorimotor system in adults," Remage-Healey says.

"What this means is that the effects are not all local, and instead we will test how changes in estradiol in one part of the brain are connected to changes in other areas. In this case, we want to
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert  

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