The Decade of the Brain (1990-2000) brought enormous advances in our understanding of brain function. Prominent among these are major achievements in characterizing the brain mechanisms of learning and memory. Progress in that era has poised us to provide a full description of how memory is accomplished by the brain. A complete understanding of memory will serve three general goals: First, our individuality as human beings is constituted as a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and personal experience. Therefore the exploration of memory is a search for self understanding. Second, deterioration of memory compromises the quality of life in a very large percentage of aging individuals. Understanding brain processes that underlie memory will direct the search for therapies that can improve and extend our memory capacities in our later years. Third, learning is a product of the brain, yet our educational systems do not take advantage of what we have learned about the brain in the development of school curricula. A major long term objective is to assist in the evolution of teaching strategies that are based in an understanding of brain function in learning and memory.
The Boston University Center for Memory and Brain (CMB) was established as a center of excellence in research, training, and teaching in the cognitive neuroscience of memory. The CMB is composed of faculty within the Departments of Psychology, Biology, Mathematics, and Biomedical Engineering. The small core group of neuroscientists that compose the CMB complement each other in technical abilities and share the specific interest of characterizing brain mechanisms of memory. The CMB is unique in close working relations among its faculty in a continuity of expertise across the levels of analysis of memory. We pursue complementary and collaborative studies aimed at describing the “circuit diagram” for memory in the human brain, and we teach at all levels and train neuroscientists in this field.
The research mission of the CMB is to describe the brain systems and circuits that mediate memory. Over the last twenty years, considerable data on both the cognitive and biological aspects of memory have been generated. In addition, major new technologies have emerged to reach a new level of discoveries about the functional circuitry of the brain. Our collaborative research program combines multiple approaches towards a full understanding of how the brain mediates memory. An associated goal is to understand how memory breaks down in aging and after brain damage or disease.
A central feature of the CMB is our focus on three state-of-the-art approaches, each shared by subsets of the core faculty and is the focus of our collaborative research. Studies of functional neuroanatomy use functional brain imaging and neuropsychological analyses to identify the cognitive processes that underlie memory and the brain systems and structures that mediate those processes. Studies of network representation and dynamics use massive recording arrays to characterize the neural activity patterns in brain structures and determine how information is encoded by ensembles of neurons. Studies of neuronal types and plasticity use in vitro slices to characterize functional circuits within brain areas. Furthermore, within each of these approaches, we use computational models to understand and guide the experimental studies. This combination of approaches will provide an outline of the systems and circuitry that mediate memory.
The CMB trains graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the neuroscience of memory. Graduate students come from the Brain, Behavior, and Cognition program within the Psychology Department, Neurobiology within the Biology Department, Biomedical Engineering, and the Program in Neuroscience. Indeed, the CMB is attracting some of the very best PhD candidates into these graduate programs, and to elect a concentration on memory. Students who concentrate in the neuroscience of memory are encouraged to have co-advisors within the CMB, enhancing their training experience.
We sponsor several special activities that teach and promote the neuroscience of memory. We support both brief and extended visits by internationally recognized Visiting Scientists who hold seminars, visit the core faculty labs, and speak in our seminar series. The CMB holds “Memory Lunch”, constituted as a seminar focusing on lectures and discussion by faculty and students at all levels and frequent guest lectures by local faculty and visiting scientists. The CMB faculty teaches courses on memory and brain research as a part of their departmental programs, including advanced undergraduate and graduate courses such as “Memory Systems of the Brain”, “Neural Networks”, and “Human Brain Mapping”. In addition, we have made contact with the educational community to learn from them about areas in need of help and offer insights from our knowledge about how the brain mediates memory.