‘Instant replay’ helps rats decide next moves

August 27th, 2009 - 3:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 27 (IANS) Rats use an instant replay of their actions to help them decide what to do next, says a new study shedding new light on how animals and humans learn and remember which in turn can lead to new methods of treatment.
“By understanding how thoughts and memories are structured, we can gain insight into how they might be disrupted in diseases and disorders of memory and thought such as Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia,” said study author Matthew A. Wilson.

Wilson, neuroscience professor at the MIT Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said “this understanding may lead to new methods of diagnosis and treatment”.

His lab explores how rats form and recall memory by recording, with unprecedented accuracy, the activity of single neurons in the hippocampus while the animal is performing tasks, pausing between actions and sleeping.

The hippocampus is the seahorse-shaped brain region researchers believe to be critical for learning and memory.

Wilson’s previous work has shown that after the animals run a maze, their brains “replay” during sleep the sequence of events they experienced while awake.

Researchers believe this process is key to sleep-reinforced memory consolidation in both animals and humans, says an MIT release.

The latest study shows that these sequences also occur when the animals are awake and may help them decide what to do next.

The work appeared in the Thursday day issue of the journal Neuron.

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