Moyer's research centers on brain changes that occur as a result of aging. Specifically, he is interested in the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming new memories. These capabilities not only deteriorate in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, but they also become impaired simply by aging.
Aging increases the number of "doors" that allow calcium ions to enter the cells, he said.
Moyer, who came to UW-Milwaukee from a post-doctoral position at Yale University, performs Pavlovian trace conditioning experiments to evaluate aging-related learning and memory deficits. These tasks first teach rodents to associate one stimulus with another and then test their memory of the association. During training, the stimuli are separated by a brief period of time, which requires the animal to maintain a memory of the first stimulus. The "stimulus free" period makes the task more difficult, especially for older animals.
Moyer's work also has implications outside of disease. He is able to show that at middle age, when the animal's learning ability or memory is not yet impaired, it already shows a drop in the number of neurons that contain an important calcium-binding protein.
"That cellular changes precede memory deficits indicates there is a window of opportunity for intervention before it's too late," he says. "Once the cells are lost, there is little chance of regaining normal brain function."