Learning and Memory

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The most active region is the hippocampus. In discussions of memory, the hippocampus is mentioned repeatedly because it is a major part of the brain involved in declarative memory function. This illustration clearly indicates that the hippocampus is involved in object location memory. But as we will see soon, it is not where all memories are stored. Consequently, H. Before the operation, H. Specifically, after the operation H. So if H. This study clearly indicated that the hippocampus was critical for memory formation.


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But whereas H. Specifically, he had all his childhood memories, and all of his memories prior to the operation. This type of memory deficit is called anterograde amnesia. In contrast, retrograde amnesia refers to loss of old memories.

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The studies on H. It is now known that those old memories are stored in other parts of the brain, such as in the frontal cortex. The process by which an initially labile memory is transformed into a more enduring form is called consolidation. This process involves the memory being stored in a different part of the brain than the initial site of its encoding.

This finding clearly indicated that the memory for skills and habits are not formed in the hippocampus. Collectively, we learned from these studies on H. The medial temporal lobe and structures like the hippocampus are involved with memories for facts and events; the striatum is involved with memories for skills and habits; the neocortex is involved with priming; the amygdala is involved with emotional memories; and the cerebellum with simple forms of associative learning.

Lower brain regions and the spinal cord contain even simpler forms of learning. In summary, memory is not stored in a single place in the brain. It is distributed in different parts of the brain. Modified from Squire and Knowlton, One of those model systems is illustrated in Figure 7. Aplysia californica is found in the tidal pools along the coast of Southern California.

It is about six inches long and weighs about grams. At first glance it is an unpromising looking creature, but neuroscientists have exploited the technical advantages of this animal to gain fundamental insights into the molecular mechanisms of memory. Indeed, the pioneering discoveries of Eric Kandel using this animal were recognized by his receipt of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in Aplysia have three technical advantages.

First, it exhibits simple forms of nondeclarative implicit learning like classical Pavlovian conditioning, operant conditioning and sensitization.

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Second, Aplysia have a very simple nervous system. Those cells are distributed in different ganglia like the one illustrated in Figure 7. This means that any one behavior can be controlled by neurons or even less. One has the potential of working out the complete neural circuit underlying a behavior, and then, after training the animal, the neural circuit can be examined to identify what has changed in the circuit that underlies the memory.

Third, the ganglia contain neurons that are very large. It is about 2mm in diameter. The spherical structures throughout the ganglia are the cell bodies of individual neurons. Each neuron is identifiable and has a unique localization and function. A related advantage is that individual neurons can be removed and placed in culture medium where they can survive for many days. Indeed, multiple neurons can be removed from the ganglia and they reestablish their normal synaptic connections, thereby providing a very powerful experimental system to study the physiology of nerve cells and the properties of the connections between them.

In the micrograph it is possible to see the shadow of a microelectrode that has impaled the sensory neuron, and the shadow of a microelectrode that has impaled a motor neuron for performing intracellular recordings. Sensitization, a simple form of nondeclarative learning amenable to detailed cellular analyses. Figures 7. The animal is tested by stimulating its tail with a weak electric shock 7. These stimuli elicit defensive reflex withdrawals of the body, which includes the tail and nearby sites such as the gill and a fleshy spout called the siphon.

In response to test stimuli delivered every five minutes, the withdrawals are fairly reliable. They are about the same duration each time Figures 7. But if a strong noxious stimulus e. This is an example of a simple form of learning called sensitization.


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  • It is defined as the enhancement of the response to a test stimulus as a result of delivering a strong generally noxious stimulus to the animal. Sensitization is a ubiquitous form of learning that is exhibited by all animals including humans. One principle about learning and memory derived from studies of this simple animal, and this principle holds true in our brains as well, is that learning involves changes in the strength of synaptic connections between neurons.

    Learning is not due to a reorganization of the nervous system or the growth of new neurons. What has changed is that the strength of a previously existing connection is modified. Now we can take this analysis one step further and ask what are the biochemical mechanisms that underlie learning and memory. We will divide the discussion into two temporal domains of memory; short-term memory and long-term memory. We have already discussed different types of memory such as declarative and nondeclarative memory.

    An Introduction to Learning and Memory

    There are also different temporal domains of memory. Short-term memories are like the memory for a telephone number that last several minutes, and long-term memory are memories that last days, weeks or a lifetime. Slide the blue ball to control the animation. Control the animation by sliding the blue ball. We have discussed a mechanism for a short-term memory. It is "short-term" because the memory is transient and that is so because the underlying biochemical changes are transient. The duration of the memory is dependent on how long the various substrate proteins e.

    Modified from M. Wainwright et al. Given that long term memory involves changes in gene expression, a major goal of neuroscientists is to identify the specific genes and proteins that are involved in long-term memory. Note that cAMP, one of the second messengers involved in the short-term memory, is also involved in the induction of long-term memory. Transcription factors like CREB, when phosphorylated, are capable of regulating gene expression, which leads to changes in the expression of proteins that are important for inducing and maintaining the long-term changes in synaptic strength and therefore the long term memory.

    Also note that changes in gene expression do not occur all at once — there are different phases. Some changes in gene expression occur early, some even 24 hours after the learning occurs. Long-term potentiation LTP : A likely synaptic mechanism for declarative memory. An enduring form of synaptic plasticity called long-term potentiation LTP is believed to be involved in many examples of declarative memory. It is present in the hippocampus, which is known to be involved in declarative memories. LTP can be studied in brain slice preparations where an electric shock test stimulus can be delivered to afferent fibers and the resultant summated EPSP can be recorded in the postsynaptic neuron Figure 7.

    If the pathway is repeatedly stimulated e. Delivering a brief 1-sec duration train of high frequency Hz stimuli i. First, there is a transient facilitation called post-tetanic potentiation PTP that dies away after several minutes. LTP is the kind of mechanism necessary to store a long-term memory Figure 7. It is as if the NMDA receptor were not even there.

    Now consider the consequences of delivering a tetanus Figure 7. During the tetanus, there will be spatial and temporal summation of the EPSPs produced by the multiple afferent synapses on the common postsynaptic cell Figure 7. Consequently, the membrane potential of the postsynaptic neuron will be depolarized significantly, much more so than the depolarization produced by a single afferent test stimulus. One component of the long-term change is the insertion of new AMPA receptors into the postsynaptic membrane Figure 7.

    Therefore, after the tetanus, the transmitter released from the presynaptic neuron by a test stimulus will bind to a greater number of receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. If more receptors are bound and hence opened, a larger potentiated EPSP i. In addition to an increase in the number of postsynaptic AMPA receptors, there is evidence that a greater amount of transmitter is released from the presynaptic neurons. The combination of the presynaptic and postsynaptic effects would act synergistically to increase the size of the synaptic potential in the postsynaptic neuron.

    Note that this example of a synaptic mechanism for declarative memory bears some similarity to the synaptic mechanism for the example of nondeclarative memory sensitization discussed previously. Although the specific details differ, both involve activation of second messenger systems and regulation of membrane channels.

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    Therefore, at a fundamental mechanistic level, there does not appear to be significant differences between the two major classes of memory systems. The major difference appears to be the brain region and the neural circuit and into which the learning mechanism is embedded. With a knowledge of some of the genes and proteins involved in memory, we can use this information to try to both test the role of specific proteins in memory and also to improve memory. One experimental way of approaching the issue is to use transgenic technology in which a gene of interest can be over expressed in an animal by introducing it into an egg cell.

    With their unique mixes of varied contributions from Original Research to Review Articles, Research Topics unify the most influential researchers, the latest key findings and historical advances in a hot research area! Find out more on how to host your own Frontiers Research Topic or contribute to one as an author. Research Topic Learning and Memory. Submission closed. Overview Articles Authors Impact Comments.

    About this Research Topic The field of learning and memory has evolved rapidly over the last fifty years. Topic Editors. Views Demographics No records found total views article views article downloads topic views. Top countries.