Cedars-Sinai investigators will lead a multi-center study into how the brain’s circuitry forms and recalls memories – research made possible by a $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
“The long-term goal is to enable the development of new treatments that combat the devastating effects of memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead investigator Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, director of Human Neurophysiology Research and associate professor of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai. “This is a large-scale effort to understand each step in the brain’s process of forming and retrieving memories and how those memories influence the many decisions we make in our day-to-day lives.”
In the study, investigators will record the activity of individual neurons in different parts of an individual’s brain using small electrodes inserted into brain implants in patients who are undergoing surgical treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy. Investigators will use this data to develop a detailed understanding of the neural networks behind declarative memory -; the conscious recollection of learned information.
In addition to Cedars-Sinai, the study includes investigators from three other institutions: Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass.; Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; and the University Health Network in Toronto. Research at these respective sites will be led by Gabriel Kreiman, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Neurology and Ophthalmology at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School; William S. Anderson, MD, PhD, associate professor of Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Taufik A. Valiante, MD, PhD, associate professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto.
The team will examine several aspects of the neural mechanisms behind the ability to recollect personal experiences. They’ll test how short-term memory helps form long-term memory and how long-term memories inform decisions. For example, if an individual is asked whether they recognize someone in a photo, that individual must access memory and decide whether to answer yes or no. The team will examine the mechanisms that make such memory-based decisions possible.
Investigators also will take these insights and apply them to continuous experiences. Patients will watch a movie and then answer questions about it, allowing the investigators to study how subjects access memories of a continuous stream of information.
“This work relies on a very rare patient population -; the small number of epilepsy patients who undergo this specific treatment,” said co-investigator, Adam N. Mamelak, MD, director of the Functional Neurosurgery Program and professor of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai. “To advance the field, we need to establish multi-center collaborations like ours to collect and pool data and get more robust data more quickly.”
The NIH’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative aims to revolutionize the understanding of the human brain. By accelerating the development and application of innovative technologies, the program seeks to enable researchers to produce a new dynamic picture of the brain that, for the first time, shows how individual cells and complex neural circuits interact in both time and space.
Announced by former President Barack Obama in 2013, this research is meant to fill major gaps in current knowledge and provide unprecedented opportunities for exploring exactly how the brain enables the human body to record, process, utilize, store and retrieve vast quantities of information, all at the speed of thought.
“The BRAIN Initiative is fostering work critical to the advancement of neuroscience in the United States,” said Patrick D. Lyden, MD, chair of the Department of Neurology. “Cedars-Sinai is honored to be selected as one of a small group of distinguished institutions capable of doing this specialized work.”