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

Concept: Memory


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


Unilateral hand clenching increases neuronal activity in the frontal lobe of the contralateral hemisphere. Such hand clenching is also associated with increased experiencing of a given hemisphere’s “mode of processing.” Together, these findings suggest that unilateral hand clenching can be used to test hypotheses concerning the specializations of the cerebral hemispheres during memory encoding and retrieval. We investigated this possibility by testing effects of unilateral hand clenching on episodic memory. The hemispheric Encoding/Retrieval Asymmetry (HERA) model proposes left prefrontal regions are associated with encoding, and right prefrontal regions with retrieval, of episodic memories. It was hypothesized that right hand clenching (left hemisphere activation) pre-encoding, and left hand clenching (right hemisphere activation) pre-recall, would result in superior memory. Results supported the HERA model. Also supported was that simple unilateral hand clenching can be used as a means by which the functional specializations of the cerebral hemispheres can be investigated in intact humans.

Concepts: Memory, Episodic memory


Despite the fact that midday naps are characteristic of early childhood, very little is understood about the structure and function of these sleep bouts. Given that sleep benefits memory in young adults, it is possible that naps serve a similar function for young children. However, children transition from biphasic to monophasic sleep patterns in early childhood, eliminating the nap from their daily sleep schedule. As such, naps may contain mostly light sleep stages and serve little function for learning and memory during this transitional age. Lacking scientific understanding of the function of naps in early childhood, policy makers may eliminate preschool classroom nap opportunities due to increasing curriculum demands. Here we show evidence that classroom naps support learning in preschool children by enhancing memories acquired earlier in the day compared with equivalent intervals spent awake. This nap benefit is greatest for children who nap habitually, regardless of age. Performance losses when nap-deprived are not recovered during subsequent overnight sleep. Physiological recordings of naps support a role of sleep spindles in memory performance. These results suggest that distributed sleep is critical in early learning; when short-term memory stores are limited, memory consolidation must take place frequently.

Concepts: Sleep, Neuroscience, Memory, Electroencephalography, Childhood, Knowledge, Siesta, Polyphasic sleep


There is a growing trend of inactivity among children, which may not only result in poorer physical health, but also poorer cognitive health. Previous research has shown that lower fitness has been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Neuropsychological assessment


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


Observational studies in humans have found associations between overstimulation in infancy via excessive television viewing and subsequent deficits in cognition and attention. We developed and tested a mouse model of overstimulation whereby p10 mice were subjected to audio (70 db) and visual stimulation (flashing lights) for six hours per day for a total of 42 days. 10 days later cognition and behavior were tested using the following tests: Light Dark Latency, Elevated Plus Maze, Novel Object Recognition, and Barnes Maze. In all tests, overstimulated mice performed significantly worse compared to controls suggesting increased activity and risk taking, diminished short term memory, and decreased cognitive function. These findings suggest that excessive non-normative stimulation during critical periods of brain development can have demonstrable untoward effects on subsequent neurocognitive function.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neurocognitive, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive neuroscience, Behaviorism


Although research addresses the effects of a meal’s context on food preference, the psychological consequences of meal situations are largely unexplored. We compared the cognitive and emotional effects of a restaurant meal eaten in the company of others to a solitary meal consumed in a plain office using pre- and post-tests analysis and controlling for the kind and amount of food consumed. Three tasks were conducted, measuring: (1) semantic memory (2) cognitive control and error monitoring, and (3) processing of emotional facial expressions. Covert processes in these tasks were assessed with event-related brain potentials. A mood rating questionnaire indicated a relaxation effect of the restaurant as compared to the plain meal situation. The restaurant meal increased sensitivity to threatening facial expressions and diminished cognitive control and error monitoring. No effects were observed for semantic memory. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that a restaurant meal with a social component may be more relaxing than a meal eaten alone in a plain setting and may reduce cognitive control.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Food, Cognition, Memory, Emotion, Event-related potential, Lunch


Many choice situations require imagining potential outcomes, a capacity that was shown to involve memory brain regions such as the hippocampus. We reasoned that the quality of hippocampus-mediated simulation might therefore condition the subjective value assigned to imagined outcomes. We developed a novel paradigm to assess the impact of hippocampus structure and function on the propensity to favor imagined outcomes in the context of intertemporal choices. The ecological condition opposed immediate options presented as pictures (hence directly observable) to delayed options presented as texts (hence requiring mental stimulation). To avoid confounding simulation process with delay discounting, we compared this ecological condition to control conditions using the same temporal labels while keeping constant the presentation mode. Behavioral data showed that participants who imagined future options with greater details rated them as more likeable. Functional MRI data confirmed that hippocampus activity could account for subjects assigning higher values to simulated options. Structural MRI data suggested that grey matter density was a significant predictor of hippocampus activation, and therefore of the propensity to favor simulated options. Conversely, patients with hippocampus atrophy due to Alzheimer’s disease, but not patients with Fronto-Temporal Dementia, were less inclined to favor options that required mental simulation. We conclude that hippocampus-mediated simulation plays a critical role in providing the motivation to pursue goals that are not present to our senses.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Brain, Epistemology, Memory, Dementia, Operations research, Futures contract, Semantic memory