How do long-term memories exist in a physiological network of cells?

 

Memory disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and vascular dementia, severely affect patients’ quality of life and place tremendous emotional and financial burdens on their families and caregivers. The Alzheimer Society of Canada reports that about half of a million Canadians currently suffer from AD, and the prevalence is expected to double by 2038. The cost for society to cope with this progressing health challenge may be unsustainable unless new therapeutic strategies are developed based on a better understanding of brain mechanisms of memory and their dysfunction in memory disorders.

 

The overarching goal of my research team is to understand how neuronal networks produce normal and abnormal memory states. Specifically, my research team pursues two research aims to reveal the functional architecture of the healthy memory system as it forms a permanent record of daily experiences (episodic memory) and to show how the functional connectivity within this network becomes disrupted in AD. 

 

We methodologically approach these questions by employing novel, cutting-edge technologies specifically designed to probe and manipulate network activity in behaving animals. Recordings of multiple single neurons and local field potential signals while employing precise classical conditioning protocols provide the fundamental experimental framework. We will enrich this framework with precisely controlled manipulations of neuronal pathways or gene expression with viral vectors. 

 

Together, we believe that our multidisciplinary approach will lead to major breakthroughs on uncovering computations in cortical networks supporting episodic memory and their dysfunctions in memory disorders