Our laboratory focuses on the biological mechanisms underlying memory. In particular, we aim to identify and characterize the mechanisms which control long-term memory formation, storage, retrieval and reconsolidation. Memory is a fundamental and well-conserved biological function, but also a critical component of our human identity. Understanding the biological processes that allow for the formation and storage of long-term memory is important in order to develop strategies to modify memory strength.
The knowledge gained from this understanding may lead to therapeutic approaches for memory loss including those which occur during aging, in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as for memory disorders caused by pathogenically strong memories, such as those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In order to become a long-term memory, newly acquired information undergoes a number of changes which require the activation of gene expression pathways. Some identified gene expression cascades are universal features of long-term memory formation and are evolutionarily conserved.
The lab is currently interested in four central questions:
- What are the functions of genes in different areas of the brain critically recruited in long-term memory formation?
- How do these biological processes change over time?
- What are the biological mechanisms that accompany memory reorganization after memory recall? Stored memories, when recalled (retrieved, reactivated), become temporarily fragile. This phase of vulnerability after retrieval provides an opportunity for interventions which can either decrease or increase the strength of the memory trace, depending on the nature of the pathology of interest.
- What are the biological mechanisms and neural circuits critical for memory formation during development?
Memory formation in development seems to follow distinct rules. For example, in some phases memories are quickly lost (e.g. infantile amnesia). Asking these questions helps us to identify the molecular pathways and target molecules involved in memory which could be important for translational applications aimed at either disrupting pathogenic memories (e.g. those associated with PTSD or addiction) or enhancing memory retention and preventing memory loss.