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(Boston) — Boston University today announced that The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have awarded the university a five-year, $9.2 million grant for research aimed at providing a better understanding of episodic memory and its deterioration associated with aging, brain damage, and disease.
The funding will support the formation of the Silvio O. Conte Centers for Neuroscience Research on the Functional Circuitry of the Hippocampus. Collaborators on the project include BU Professors Howard Eichenbaum, Michael Hasselmo, Chantal Stern, John A. White, and Nancy Kopell.
“This award supports interdisciplinary research on how memory is accomplished in brain circuitry,” said Dr. Eichenbaum, a professor of psychology and the lead investigator of the study. “The project focuses on a characteristic feature of recollection – the ability to remember the sequence of events that compose a unique personal experience. Researchers will characterize the brain circuitry that is critical to this capacity and will determine the nature of circuit representations that support the encoding and retrieval of sequential events.”
According to Dr. Eichenbaum, the ultimate objective of the research is to explain the nature of processing in the hippocampus region of brain and related cortical structures that control episodic memory. Working with the hypothesis that the hippocampus, together with associated areas, represents sequential events that compose and distinguish episodes, this project provides the first systematic examination of that hypothesis and challenges three prominent alternate views: that memory for order is a reflection of a general associative function of the hippocampus, that the hippocampus is specialized for spatial memory, and that organization of memory is accomplished by other brain areas.
“Our approach involves looking at different levels of brain organization and combines multiple disciplinary, methodological, and technological perspectives integrated across four projects,” said Eichenbaum.
Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) will investigate in humans the role of the hippocampus and related medial temporal lobe (MTL) structures in sequence memory. Studies on the activity of neural ensembles and rhythmic field potentials in animals will identify neural coding mechanisms for temporal organization of non-spatial and spatial memory. Additional studies aim to establish a relationship between hippocampal activity and behavior in episodic-like tasks while computational models of behavior aim to reveal basic features of brain circuit processing and the timing of encoding and retrieval of sequential information.
“Both the human and animal studies and computational modeling are highly interactive and co-dependent, and are designed to provide a circuit level picture of brain functioning and cognitive performance,” Eichenbaum explained.
The Department of Psychology at Boston University, part of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, offers programs of research in brain, behavior, and cognition; clinical psychology; or human development.
Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.