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Carnegie Mellon research provides insight into brain's decision-making process
Date:3/11/2010

ecord brain activity of rats as they navigated a maze. In particular, they monitored certain neurons, called place cells, which fire in response to physical locations. That enabled the researchers to identify where an event that was being replayed was located based on which place cells were firing. During an experiment, a rat might be in one portion of the maze, while the firing of place cells in the hippocampus indicated that the rat was replaying information about a different location.

On a task with two behavioral sequences, A and B, the researchers found that the animals would replay sequence B more often though they spent most of their time running sequence A. In other words, the researchers found that the rats were most likely to replay the path they had experienced less often. This suggests that replay is not just a function of helping an animal remember what it has experienced most frequently or most recently, but an important function in helping it map its whole environment.

During the replay process, the research team also was able to observe the animal making connections between paths that it had never physically traveled before. For example, if the animal had physically traveled from point A to point B, and also from point A to point C, but never from point B to point C, they observed the single sequence B to A to C during the replay process, implying that the rat's brain was able to make the connection between points B and C on its internal map. This further indicates that replay plays a role in helping an animal learn and maintain the entire map of its environment and make connections within it. The rats were not just reviewing recent experience to move it to long-term memory.

"Based on these observations, we have to rethink what is the role of replay for memory," wrote neuroscientists Dori Derdikman and May-Britt Moser of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in a commentary also published in the March 11 issue of Neuron.
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Contact: Byron Spice
bspice@cs.cmu.edu
412-268-9068
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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