Understanding how our brains work to create and store memories is fundamental to understanding how things go wrong in dementia. To date, how memories are stored and recalled is completely unknown.
Uncovering these mechanisms are the goals of a collaborative effort between Drs. Maler, Béïque, Longtin and Ferguson. They are using cutting edge behavioural, mathematic, optic and analytical techniques to determine which brain networks are involved in recognizing patterns. To be able to assess if an object is something you recognize, or if it is new, your brain must compare that object to what it has stored as memories. This is done in a small region in a part of the brain called the hippocampus and the phenomenon they are studying is called pattern separation/pattern completion. Our brains only need a small amount of information such as a voice, shadow, or smell to translate it into a whole object or person by comparing it to stored memories.
This is done through the activation of neuronal networks in the brain. Certain networks are strengthened the more you are exposed to the same object or experience. Dr. Béïque can activate single neurons, using lasers, within this network to observe how they are organized and connected to their neighbours. In addition, using optogenetics they can turn on or off the functioning of the cells to determine how recognition changes in animal models during behavioural tasks. They believe that these networks are damaged in Alzheimer’s disease and, understanding how this subset of neurons in the hippocampus is involved in pattern separation/pattern completion, could provide insight into what is going wrong during dementia disease progression.