Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The cerebral cortex is a fast learner

30.11.2018

Tübingen researchers trace the formation of memories in the cerebral neocortex

A team of researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics has found that the cerebral cortex plays a much bigger role in storing information than previously believed. The scientists, headed by Svenja Brodt, Professor Steffen Gais and Dr. Monika Schönauer, used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging to show that the cerebral cortex is involved already early in the learning process.


Neuroscience now has to update a widely accepted model, which says this part of the brain is a slow learner. The new study is published in Science.

For centuries, researchers have been trying to track down the secrets of human memory. For a long time, processes that form new memories were barely understood. Traditional models assume that the brain has two systems for memory – one in the hippocampus, which takes in large amounts of information quickly, and the other in the cerebral cortex, where lasting memories can be stored through repeated learning.

The physical signs of memory formation

In this new study, the researchers gave their test subjects a learning task in which they had to remember several pairs of objects and their spatial arrangement on a computer screen – as in a children’s game of “pairs.” While they conducted this task, their brain activity was recorded by an MRI scanner. The researchers also carried out a special measurement showing the brain tissue microstructure.

They used a process called diffusion-weighted imaging, which measures the motion of water molecules in the brain. Because water is slowed down by cell membranes, tracking its motion gives the scientists detailed information about the tissue structure. Measurements were taken at three times: immediately prior to the learning task, 90 minutes later and twelve hours later.

“A comparison of the diffusion images before and after learning with a control condition allowed us to draw conclusions about smallest changes in tissue structure caused by the learning process,” explains lead author Svenja Brodt. Thus, traces of the learning process can be observed in the inactive state following completion of the learning task.

“We are moving away from mere snapshots of brain activity taken while the brain is absorbing or recalling information towards an examination of the physical traces left by the storing of information in our brains,” Brodt says.

With the help of diffusion-weighted imaging, researchers were able to measure structural changes in the cerebral cortex already 90 minutes after learning – in precisely those regions that showed strong memory-related activity during the learning task.

The strongest changes were found in the back of the parietal lobe, the posterior parietal cortex. The bigger these changes were, the better the test subjects could remember the object pairs in the long term.

Stable changes in the cerebral cortex

“These structural changes are not a short-term by-product of increased cell activity during learning, because they remain stable for at least twelve hours,” says study leader Monika Schönauer. She says studies on animals show that these changes are linked to a strengthening of connections between nerve cells, the so-called synapses.

“Our results confirm that the cerebral cortex plays a role early on in learning processes, and show that it is immediately involved in the physical storage of information,” Schönauer states. “The earlier assumption that the cerebral cortex learns only slowly can no longer be maintained.”

Head of the working group Steffen Gais adds: “Our findings in recent years have great significance for the further development of current theories about memory formation.”

These new findings offer an explanation as to how patients with a damaged hippocampus are in some cases able to learn and remember new information, Gais says. The further investigation of the conditions under which information is stored directly in the cerebral cortex could help in the long term to develop new learning strategies for certain types of memory loss.

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Svenja Brodt
University of Tübingen
Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology
Phone +49 7071 29-73264
svenja.brodt[at]uni-tuebingen.de

Originalpublikation:

S. Brodt, S. Gais, J. Beck, M. Erb, K. Scheffler, M. Schönauer: Fast track to the neocortex: A memory engram in posterior parietal cortex. Science, 30 November 2018.

Dr. Karl Guido Rijkhoek | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.uni-tuebingen.de/

Further reports about: cerebral cortex learning process parietal cortex

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species
03.07.2020 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Moss protein corrects genetic defects of other plants
03.07.2020 | Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

Im Focus: AI monitoring of laser welding processes - X-ray vision and eavesdropping ensure quality

With an X-ray experiment at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble (France), Empa researchers were able to demonstrate how well their real-time acoustic monitoring of laser weld seams works. With almost 90 percent reliability, they detected the formation of unwanted pores that impair the quality of weld seams. Thanks to a special evaluation method based on artificial intelligence (AI), the detection process is completed in just 70 milliseconds.

Laser welding is a process suitable for joining metals and thermoplastics. It has become particularly well established in highly automated production, for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species

03.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Risk of infection with COVID-19 from singing: First results of aerosol study with the Bavarian Radio Chorus

03.07.2020 | Studies and Analyses

Efficient, Economical and Aesthetic: Researchers Build Electrodes from Leaves

03.07.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>