Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Hippocampus


The Mars mission will result in an inevitable exposure to cosmic radiation that has been shown to cause cognitive impairments in rodent models, and possibly in astronauts engaged in deep space travel. Of particular concern is the potential for cosmic radiation exposure to compromise critical decision making during normal operations or under emergency conditions in deep space. Rodents exposed to cosmic radiation exhibit persistent hippocampal and cortical based performance decrements using six independent behavioral tasks administered between separate cohorts 12 and 24 weeks after irradiation. Radiation-induced impairments in spatial, episodic and recognition memory were temporally coincident with deficits in executive function and reduced rates of fear extinction and elevated anxiety. Irradiation caused significant reductions in dendritic complexity, spine density and altered spine morphology along medial prefrontal cortical neurons known to mediate neurotransmission interrogated by our behavioral tasks. Cosmic radiation also disrupted synaptic integrity and increased neuroinflammation that persisted more than 6 months after exposure. Behavioral deficits for individual animals correlated significantly with reduced spine density and increased synaptic puncta, providing quantitative measures of risk for developing cognitive impairment. Our data provide additional evidence that deep space travel poses a real and unique threat to the integrity of neural circuits in the brain.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuron, Brain, Decision making, Cognition, Cerebral cortex, Hippocampus, Metaphysics


A specific memory is thought to be encoded by a sparse population of neurons. These neurons can be tagged during learning for subsequent identification and manipulation. Moreover, their ablation or inactivation results in reduced memory expression, suggesting their necessity in mnemonic processes. However, the question of sufficiency remains: it is unclear whether it is possible to elicit the behavioural output of a specific memory by directly activating a population of neurons that was active during learning. Here we show in mice that optogenetic reactivation of hippocampal neurons activated during fear conditioning is sufficient to induce freezing behaviour. We labelled a population of hippocampal dentate gyrus neurons activated during fear learning with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) and later optically reactivated these neurons in a different context. The mice showed increased freezing only upon light stimulation, indicating light-induced fear memory recall. This freezing was not detected in non-fear-conditioned mice expressing ChR2 in a similar proportion of cells, nor in fear-conditioned mice with cells labelled by enhanced yellow fluorescent protein instead of ChR2. Finally, activation of cells labelled in a context not associated with fear did not evoke freezing in mice that were previously fear conditioned in a different context, suggesting that light-induced fear memory recall is context specific. Together, our findings indicate that activating a sparse but specific ensemble of hippocampal neurons that contribute to a memory engram is sufficient for the recall of that memory. Moreover, our experimental approach offers a general method of mapping cellular populations bearing memory engrams.

Concepts: Psychology, Memory, Hippocampus, Dentate gyrus, Neurogenesis, Granule cell, Entorhinal cortex, Channelrhodopsin


Misophonia is an affective sound-processing disorder characterized by the experience of strong negative emotions (anger and anxiety) in response to everyday sounds, such as those generated by other people eating, drinking, chewing, and breathing [1-8]. The commonplace nature of these sounds (often referred to as “trigger sounds”) makes misophonia a devastating disorder for sufferers and their families, and yet nothing is known about the underlying mechanism. Using functional and structural MRI coupled with physiological measurements, we demonstrate that misophonic subjects show specific trigger-sound-related responses in brain and body. Specifically, fMRI showed that in misophonic subjects, trigger sounds elicit greatly exaggerated blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the anterior insular cortex (AIC), a core hub of the "salience network" that is critical for perception of interoceptive signals and emotion processing. Trigger sounds in misophonics were associated with abnormal functional connectivity between AIC and a network of regions responsible for the processing and regulation of emotions, including ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), posteromedial cortex (PMC), hippocampus, and amygdala. Trigger sounds elicited heightened heart rate (HR) and galvanic skin response (GSR) in misophonic subjects, which were mediated by AIC activity. Questionnaire analysis showed that misophonic subjects perceived their bodies differently: they scored higher on interoceptive sensibility than controls, consistent with abnormal functioning of AIC. Finally, brain structural measurements implied greater myelination within vmPFC in misophonic individuals. Overall, our results show that misophonia is a disorder in which abnormal salience is attributed to particular sounds based on the abnormal activation and functional connectivity of AIC.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Limbic system, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, Insular cortex, Galvanic skin response


Antibiotics, though remarkably useful, can also cause certain adverse effects. We detected that treatment of adult mice with antibiotics decreases hippocampal neurogenesis and memory retention. Reconstitution with normal gut flora (SPF) did not completely reverse the deficits in neurogenesis unless the mice also had access to a running wheel or received probiotics. In parallel to an increase in neurogenesis and memory retention, both SPF-reconstituted mice that ran and mice supplemented with probiotics exhibited higher numbers of Ly6C(hi) monocytes in the brain than antibiotic-treated mice. Elimination of Ly6C(hi) monocytes by antibody depletion or the use of knockout mice resulted in decreased neurogenesis, whereas adoptive transfer of Ly6C(hi) monocytes rescued neurogenesis after antibiotic treatment. We propose that the rescue of neurogenesis and behavior deficits in antibiotic-treated mice by exercise and probiotics is partially mediated by Ly6C(hi) monocytes.

Concepts: Immune system, Psychology, Bacteria, Gut flora, Hippocampus, Antibiotic, Probiotic, Clostridium difficile


Psychological and neurobiological evidence implicates hippocampal-dependent memory processes in the control of hunger and food intake. In humans, these have been revealed in the hyperphagia that is associated with amnesia. However, it remains unclear whether ‘memory for recent eating’ plays a significant role in neurologically intact humans. In this study we isolated the extent to which memory for a recently consumed meal influences hunger and fullness over a three-hour period. Before lunch, half of our volunteers were shown 300 ml of soup and half were shown 500 ml. Orthogonal to this, half consumed 300 ml and half consumed 500 ml. This process yielded four separate groups (25 volunteers in each). Independent manipulation of the ‘actual’ and ‘perceived’ soup portion was achieved using a computer-controlled peristaltic pump. This was designed to either refill or draw soup from a soup bowl in a covert manner. Immediately after lunch, self-reported hunger was influenced by the actual and not the perceived amount of soup consumed. However, two and three hours after meal termination this pattern was reversed - hunger was predicted by the perceived amount and not the actual amount. Participants who thought they had consumed the larger 500-ml portion reported significantly less hunger. This was also associated with an increase in the ‘expected satiation’ of the soup 24-hours later. For the first time, this manipulation exposes the independent and important contribution of memory processes to satiety. Opportunities exist to capitalise on this finding to reduce energy intake in humans.

Concepts: Psychology, Food, Memory, Hippocampus, Appetite, Episodic memory, Amnesia, Restaurant


Sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of newly acquired memories. Yet, how our brain selects the noteworthy information that will be consolidated during sleep remains largely unknown. Here we show that post-learning sleep favors the selectivity of long-term consolidation: when tested three months after initial encoding, the most important (i.e., rewarded, strongly encoded) memories are better retained, and also remembered with higher subjective confidence. Our brain imaging data reveals that the functional interplay between dopaminergic reward regions, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus contributes to the integration of rewarded associative memories. We further show that sleep spindles strengthen memory representations based on reward values, suggesting a privileged replay of information yielding positive outcomes. These findings demonstrate that post-learning sleep determines the neural fate of motivationally-relevant memories and promotes a value-based stratification of long-term memory stores.

Concepts: Brain, Sleep, Neuroscience, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Limbic system, Long-term potentiation


Obesity has become an international health crisis. There is accumulating evidence that excess bodyweight is associated with changes to the structure and function of the brain and with a number of cognitive deficits. In particular, research suggests that obesity is associated with hippocampal and frontal lobe dysfunction, which would be predicted to impact memory. However evidence for such memory impairment is currently limited. We hypothesised that higher BMI would be associated with reduced performance on a test of episodic memory that assesses not only content, but also context and feature integration. 50 participants aged 18-35, with BMIs ranging from 18 to 51, were tested on a novel what-where-when style episodic memory test: The “Treasure-Hunt Task”. This test requires recollection of object, location, and temporal order information within the same paradigm, as well as testing the ability to integrate these features into a single event recollection. Higher BMI was associated with significantly lower performance on the What-Where-When memory task and all individual elements: object identification, location memory, and temporal order memory. After controlling for age, sex and years in education, the effect of BMI on the individual what, where and when tasks remained, while the WWW dropped below significance. This finding of episodic memory deficits in obesity is of concern given the emerging evidence for a role for episodic cognition in appetite regulation.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognition, Memory, Hippocampus, Episodic memory, Procedural memory, Amnesia


Balance of cortical excitation and inhibition (EI) is thought to be disrupted in several neuropsychiatric conditions, yet it is not clear how it is maintained in the healthy human brain. When EI balance is disturbed during learning and memory in animal models, it can be restabilized via formation of inhibitory replicas of newly formed excitatory connections. Here we assess evidence for such selective inhibitory rebalancing in humans. Using fMRI repetition suppression we measure newly formed cortical associations in the human brain. We show that expression of these associations reduces over time despite persistence in behavior, consistent with inhibitory rebalancing. To test this, we modulated excitation/inhibition balance with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Using ultra-high-field (7T) MRI and spectroscopy, we show that reducing GABA allows cortical associations to be re-expressed. This suggests that in humans associative memories are stored in balanced excitatory-inhibitory ensembles that lie dormant unless latent inhibitory connections are unmasked.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Hippocampus, Cerebellum


Inflammation impairs cognitive performance and is implicated in the progression of neurodegenerative disorders. Rodent studies demonstrated key roles for inflammatory mediators in many processes critical to memory, including long-term potentiation, synaptic plasticity, and neurogenesis. They also demonstrated functional impairment of medial temporal lobe (MTL) structures by systemic inflammation. However, human data to support this position are limited.

Concepts: Inflammation, Neuroscience, Synaptic plasticity, Memory, Temporal lobe, Hippocampus, Long-term potentiation, Lobe


Adult neurogenesis in the hippocampal subgranular zone (SGZ) and the anterior subventricular zone (SVZ) is regulated by multiple factors, including neurotransmitters, hormones, stress, aging, voluntary exercise, environmental enrichment, learning, and ischemia. Chronic treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) modulates adult neurogenesis in the SGZ, the neuronal area that is hypothesized to mediate the antidepressant effects of these substances. Layer 1 inhibitory neuron progenitor cells (L1-INP cells) were recently identified in the adult cortex, but it remains unclear what factors other than ischemia affect the neurogenesis of L1-INP cells. Here, we show that chronic treatment with an SSRI, fluoxetine (FLX), stimulated the neurogenesis of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic interneurons from L1-INP cells in the cortex of adult mice. Immunofluorescence and genetic analyses revealed that FLX treatment increased the number of L1-INP cells in all examined cortical regions in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, enhanced Venus reporter expression driven by the synapsin I promoter demonstrated that GABAergic interneurons were derived from retrovirally labeled L1-INP cells. In order to assess if these new GABAergic interneurons possess physiological function, we examined the their effect on apoptosis surrounding areas following ischemia. Intriguingly, the number of neurons expressing the apoptotic marker, active caspase-3, was significantly lower in adult mice pretreated with FLX. Our findings indicate that FLX stimulates the neurogenesis of cortical GABAergic interneurons, which might have, at least, some functions, including a suppressive effect on apoptosis induced by ischemia.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 4 January 2013; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.2.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Serotonin, Antidepressant, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Subgranular zone