The Brain’s Memory Systems

Damage to the memory systems of the brain—particularly the hippocampus, retrosplenial cortex, and anterior thalamus—has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, age-related memory decline, and various other amnesic syndromes, as well as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. In order to develop better treatments for patients, we must understand the fundamentals of how these memory systems work.

David M. Smith, Psychology, is working to explain the precise contributions of particular brain regions to memory. Complex cognitive functions require the cooperative interaction of many different brain regions that form functional circuits. In the case of memory, the hippocampus, retrosplenial cortex, and anterior thalamus are known to be involved, but little is known about how these brain regions communicate with each other. The Smith lab is digging deeper to understand how neurons in these regions represent memories and how communication within the circuit allows us to learn and remember.

To investigate this, Smith’s group will record neuronal activity as rats perform various spatial and contextual memory tasks. They will combine these recordings with new optogenetic and chemogenetic methods for manipulating neuronal activity. The Smith lab will suppress activity in different components of this circuit and observe the effects on memory and information processing in other parts of the circuit.

This technique will enable Smith to determine how memory-related information is processed and how memory may fail as a result of brain damage.

NIH Award Number: 2R01MH083809-06A1

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$2.1 Million spanning 5 years