A scientist from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has been awarded approximately $2.5 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to better define how the brain organizes different types of memories among its neurons.
Ronald Davis, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at TSRI, is the principal investigator for the new study.
The five-year continuation of an earlier grant takes as its research model Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly. The fruit fly is widely used in these studies because humans and flies share many of the same genes involved in learning and memory.
"Since nearly every neuropsychiatric disorder affects memory formation, these new studies will aid in understanding memory formation in humans—in the normal brain as well as in the diseased brain," Davis said.
The research focuses on the how the brain organizes olfactory or scent memories learned in association with reward conditioning compared to negative conditioning.
The new study has a number of objectives, Davis said, including defining the exact nature of cellular memory traces, the mechanisms for their formation, their duration, and the neurons in which they form.
Aiding current memory research are advances in functional imaging of neural activity in the fly brain, allowing scientists for the first time to see olfactory memory traces as they form—a literal and figurative window into the cellular and systems logic of memory formation. "Combined with Drosophila's advanced molecular biology and genetics," Davis said, "this imaging technology provides an unprecedented opportunity to dissect the brain's algorithm that underlies Pavlovian conditioning."