Laughs, Tears and Data from Dr. Miguel Nicolelis’ Distinguished Lecture

One week ago we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Miguel Nicolelis at UC Irvine to deliver the 24th Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory. During his talk, Dr. Nicolelis took us on a beautiful journey of his career. He described a 30-year long odyssey in fundamental neuroscience. When he finally took things to the clinic, the results were nothing short of astonishing. A young man who had been paralyzed for more than 9 years could finally walk again, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Nicolelis and his colleagues. And he was not alone. Advances in brain-machine interfaces are now helping countless like him walk again.

Dr. Nicolelis is a staunch advocate for building strong foundations in basic and fundamental neuroscience before moving to clinical translation. He shared with me his concerns that the current funding climate pressures scientists to move prematurely to translation and drains them of creativity. Without adequate support for fundamental science, the engine of discovery and innovation, we cannot successfully advance to therapeutic applications. Dr. Nicolelis’ work is a great example of how patience, perseverance, and dedication to fundamental science pays off!

If you missed the lecture, you can still watch it on the livestream page. It will also be available on our YouTube channel in the next few days.

We look forward to seeing you next year for the 25th Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory.

Michael A. Yassa, Ph.D.
Director, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

Join us for a Film Screening of My Love Affair with the Brain

The 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory, hosted by the UC Irvine CNLM, will feature a FREE screening of the award-winning documentary “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond“. Dr. Diamond passed away in July 2017 at the age of 90, after a career that transformed neuroscience… several times over.

The screening will be followed by a special panel discussion with the filmmakers, Cathy Ryan and Gary Weimberg, hosted by Drs. Wendy Suzuki and Bob Knight, who were featured in the documentary. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Click here to register.

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BRAIN: THE LIFE AND SCIENCE OF DR. MARIAN DIAMOND

A documentary film by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan, Luna Productions

How can you not fall in love with a woman who carries around a preserved human brain inside a giant flowery hat box? Meet Dr. Marian Diamond, renowned academic and research scientist, and prepare to be smitten.

Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg’s film follows this remarkable woman over a 5-year period and introduces the viewer to both her many scientific accomplishments and the warm, funny, and thoroughly charming woman herself, who describes her 60-year career researching the human brain as “pure joy.”

As one of the founders of modern neuroscience, it’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Diamond changed science, and society at large in dramatic ways over the course of her career. Her groundbreaking work is all the more remarkable because it began during an era when so few women entered science at all. Shouted at from the back of the conference hall by noteworthy male academics as she presented her research, and disparaged in the scientific journals of a more conservative era, Dr. Diamond simply did the work and followed where her curiosity led her, bringing about a paradigm shift (or two) in the process.

The film has won numerous awards in film festivals as well as in the scientific arena including the prestigious AAAS Kavli Gold Award in Science Journalism in November 2017.

The documentary is narrated by UCLA trained neuroscientist and TV star Dr. Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Big Bang Theory), and includes interviews with Drs. Wendy Suzuki (NYU) and Bob Knight (UC Berkeley). It also features interviews with Arne Scheibel, Marian’s late husband of 35 years and rare footage from Marian’s early life and career as a scientist.

To watch a video sneak peek, click here.

Special Seminar with Dr. Wendy Suzuki

SPECIAL SEMINAR
DR. WENDY SUZUKI

Adventures in Brain Plasticity

Monday February 5, 2018
11:00am
Herklotz Conference Center
(300 Qureshey Research Lab – Building 506 on campus map)

Brain plasticity, defined as the brain’s ability to learn and change in response to the environment, is a fundamental theme in neuroscience research today and has been the major theme of Suzuki’s research career.  In this talk, Suzuki will describe the range of experimental approaches and model systems she has used to study various aspects of brain plasticity starting with her studies of the brain areas important for one of the most common forms of brain plasticity, new memory formation.  Using non-human primates as a model system, Suzuki’s studies helped define the neuroanatomy, physiology and function of the brain areas in the medial temporal lobe critical for long-term memory for facts and events, often called declarative or relational memory.  She has brought this basic research perspective to her most recent studies where she is asking the practical questions 1) how might we use physical aerobic exercise to improve or enhance a wide range of cognitive functions including memory, mood/affect, attention and even aspects of creativity in people and 2) what are the neurochemical and neurophysiological pathways that underlie these plastic changes?  Here she will describe her most recent studies that have examined the effects of either a single exercise session (acute exercise) or long-term increases in aerobic activity on college students, low-fit adults or high fit adults and patients with traumatic brain injury on a range of cognitive functions and EEG.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Her major research interest are in the area of brain plasticity. She is best known for her extensive work studying areas in the brain critical for our ability to form and retain new long-term memories. More recently her work has focused on understanding how aerobic exercise can be used to improve learning, memory and higher cognitive abilities in humans.

This special seminar is sponsored by the Exercise Medicine and Sport Sciences Initiative, and the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Hot off the Press! Brain Rhythms: Higher-Frequency Theta Oscillations Make Sense in Moving Humans by Dr. Michael Yassa

“Going for an early morning run in El Moro Canyon is an unforgettable experience. Despite its familiarity, it somehow feels a tad different every time. The sensory barrage around each turn is a welcome change from the office setting that will occupy the rest of my day. Each point in the breathtaking landscape leaves a lasting memory, one that I myself help create as I move through the landscape. Much of our lives is spent moving and exploring in the same way, crafting experiences that are the result of our unique interactions with the world.

In the evolutionary sense, we are constantly and actively sensing our environment to learn more about it and to make decisions that promote our survival. How does the brain transform this constant sensory flow into meaningful representations that guide memory, spatial navigation, and decision-making?”

Read more in this commentary on recent work by Dr. Zahra Aghajan et al. (Theta Oscillations in the Human Medial Temporal Lobe during Real-World Ambulatory Movement)

>> Brain Rhythms: Higher-Frequency Theta Oscillations Make Sense in Moving Humans by Dr. Michael Yassa, published today in Current Biology Dispatches, a CellPress journal.

CNLM Director Dr. Michael Yassa to present on Strategies for Successful Aging

Last year, UC Irvine’s Calit2 partnered with the Irvine Health Foundation to establish an Aging 2.0 chapter in Orange County. Aging 2.0 aims to bring the community together to discuss and learn from each other about issues and concerns around healthy aging and wellness.  

This Wednesday, January 24th Dr. Michael Yassa, CNLM Director and Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior will present on Strategies for Successful Aging. All are welcome to join! 

What: Strategies for Successful Aging Presentation by Dr. Michael Yassa
Where: Calit2, UC Irvine
When: Wednesday January 24, 2018 @ 12:00 – 1:00pm

Click here for more information and to register 

Meet the Spring 2018 Brain Explorer Academy Team


Over the next few months, 40 Orange County children ages 8-14 will have the chance to work hand-in-hand with with UC Irvine scientists to learn about brain science, brain health, scientific communication and critical thinking. The children will be spending their Saturday mornings at the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory as part of the Center’s Brain Explorer Academy. This program is 100% free for children and is possible because of the group of dedicated scientists who will spend their Saturday mornings shaping the next generation of brain scientists. Though the scientists below come from different labs and are studying various different parts of the brain, they all have something in common: a passion for brain science and a drive to share this passion with you!

Manuella Yassa, Program Director
Hi I’m Manuella and I’m the Director of the Brain Explorer Academy. What I love most about science is that scientists get to ask questions that have never been asked and discover the answers themselves, creating knowledge! Can you imagine how exciting it must feel to discover something for the first time and then to share it with the world? I am looking forward to bringing you into the world of science and to exploring the brain with you!

 

Spring 2018 Brain Explorer Academy Science Mentor Team

Postdoctoral Fellows
(Postdoctoral Fellows have finished graduate school and earned Ph.D.s. They are now working in a laboratory to gain more experience and often learn a new skill or technique before choosing a career path.)

Dane Clemenson, Ph.D.
My name is Dr. Dane Clemenson and I am research scientist here at UCI. Using video games, my research examines how people navigate, explore, and remember their surrounding environment. I especially enjoy creating virtual environments for people to roam around in so that I can better understand the decisions they make as they explore. I’m excited to share my experience as a scientist and I look forward to working with you.

 

Amy Frithsen, Ph.D.
My name is Amy and I’m a research scientist here at UCI. My research focuses on human memory and what parts of our brains become active when we try to remember things. Getting people – especially children – to start thinking critically about current issues is extremely important to me and I believe that a strong foundation in the scientific method is a great way to introduce this style of thinking. Additionally, science can be really exciting and fun and I’m really happy to get an opportunity to get kids pumped up about science and particularly about brains!

 

 

 

Valeria Lallai, Ph.D.
Hi, I’m Dr. Valeria Lallai, Postdoctoral fellow in the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at UCI. Before coming to California I lived in Italy where I studied to earn my Ph.D. Here at UCI I study genes to understand how brain cells communicate with each other.  I have a passion for education and for teaching young people about science. I cannot wait to  study with you the apparatus with which we actually study, our brain!

Graduate Students
(Graduate Students have finished undergraduate training and earned Bachelor’s Degrees. They are now in graduate school studying to earn a Ph.D.)
Mitchell Farrell, B.S.
Hello! My name is Mitch and I’m from New Jersey where I grew up with my four brothers and four basset hounds. At UCI, I study how the brain motivates us to do things. Ever wonder why we crave our favorite foods when hungry or seek out water when we’re thirsty?  These are the types of questions I research and can’t wait to share my interests with you!

 

Jonathan Hasselmann, B.S.
Hi, my name is Jonathan Hasselmann and I am a neurobiology PhD student in Dr. Mathew Blurton-Jones’ lab. I became interested in neuroscience because I was fascinated by memory and how our memories shape the decisions that we make and the people that we are. I study microglia (a type of brain cell) to try to figure out what happens in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease. If we can understand what this disease is doing to the brain, then hopefully we can figure out how to treat it. I can’t wait to meet you all so that we can explore the brain together!

Amanda McQuade, B.S.
Hi! I’m Amanda. I found my love for science in grade school and am thrilled to be living out my passion as a graduate student at UCI. Currently, I am studying how the immune system may influence brain diseases. My favorite thing about being a scientist is working with stem cells and turning them into brain cells!

 

Maria Montchal, B.S.
Hi! I’m Maria, and I’m a graduate student at UCI studying how we remember different aspects of experiences. My favorite thing about science is that scientific discoveries can help to make the world a better place and spark curiosity that leads to even more knowledge. I’m looking forward to talking about science with everyone!

Noora Siddiqui, B.S.
Hi! I’m Noora — a lifetime student of the sciences and a lover of all things computers and chemistry! When I’m not nose-deep in literature about ethyl formate and the flavor of raspberries in the galaxy (google it!), I can be found studying how to use computers to help us develop cures for disease. In a lot of ways, our brain is just like a computer — both can store memory, recognize patterns, solve problems, and make decisions. Pretty neat, isn’t it?!

Undergraduate Students
(Undergraduate Students are studying to earn their Bachelor’s Degrees)

Michael Gomez
Hi my name is Michael, I am an undergraduate student wanting to fulfill the dream of becoming a Neuroscientist. I’ve been fascinated by every book I’ve read about the brain and I want to perpetuate the feeling. I want to know the secrets that both the brain as an organ and the fruit it bears—consciousness– have. Paraphrasing Carl Sagan, understanding the brain has become a kind of bliss.

 

 

Lena Nguyen
Hello! My name is Lena and I am a biology student and a research assistant in the Cognition and Emotion laboratory that studies the effects of stress on memory at UCI! Before moving to Irvine for school I lived in Half Moon Bay, a small little surf town near San Francisco. I came to the sciences because the world, our bodies, and our knowledge are capable of amazing things that have the potential to help others! I love how our brain can raise so many questions and we can find answers to why we snack on food when we’re bored or how we store information and memories. I look forward to studying with you!

Research Staff
Anna Smith, B.S.
Hi! My name is Anna. I grew up in Colorado, moved to Minnesota to study, and am now doing memory research at UCI while I prepare for graduate school. One of the most interesting things about the brain, I think, is that our experiences aren’t stored and replayed like mental film reels. I love to ask questions about what makes certain features of our memories stand out more than others, and investigate the ways we mis-remember things that we’ve seen. On the topic of memory, it’s easy for me to recall the first times I dipped my toes into the study of neuroscience, and I’m excited to be part of that process of discovery for all of you!

 

 

24th Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory featuring Dr. Miguel Nicolelis

Lecture is FREE to the public – Click here to reserve your ticket

The UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM), Ayala School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) invite you to the 24th UC Irvine Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory. This year’s event will feature a presentation by Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience at Duke University and one of the world’s leading brain scientists. Dr. Nicolelis will discuss discoveries in his laboratory that have connected brains to machines and have created a world in which paraplegics have a chance to walk again.

Dr. Miguel Nicolelis is a Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering, Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. He is the founder of Duke’s Center for Neuroengineering and the Walk Again Project, an international consortium of scientists and engineers dedicated to the development of an exoskeleton device to assist paralyzed patients in regaining full mobility.

Dr. Nicolelis is an advocate for strengthening science education, technology and innovation, and is the author of several books including Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines – and How it will Change Our Lives. His transformative research has been published in Nature, Science and Scientific Americanand has been reported in Newsweek, Time and Discover.

As the world’s most influential neuroscientist alive today, Dr. Nicolelis has paved the way in the field of Brain-Machine Interface, and his discoveries have created a world in which paraplegics have a chance of walking again. Dr. Nicolelis has also developed an integrative approach to studying neurological and psychiatric disorders that will allow for a more complete understanding of Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder.

This event is FREE to the public. Tickets are required for admission. Seating is open to the first 625 guests who register, and early arrival is recommended. Tickets (paper or digital) will be scanned at the entrance. Click here to reserve your ticket. 

CNLM Researchers take the Girl Scout Pledge

  • MindBogglers workbook ✓
  • Play-doh ✓
  • Microscope ✓
  • Model brains ✓
  • Certificates of completion ✓
  • Pencils and brain toppers ✓
  • LOTS of stickers ✓
  • A real human brain ✓

Earlier this month, 10 CNLM researchers, trunks full of materials, visited a Girl Scout Brownie Troop of Orange County for their bi-weekly meeting. The researchers (undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research staff from various schools and departments across UC Irvine) are CNLM Ambassadors, a group of more than 40 brain scientists with one thing in common: an infectious passion for brain science and education.

The group, guided by Manuella Yassa, the CNLM’s Director of Outreach and Education, aims to make brain science accessible to all, from pre-schoolers to senior citizens. Programs this year have included visits to K-12 schools, community centers, and non-profit organizations in Orange County as well as tours of CNLM labs for older adults as well as at-risk teens.

Our visit to the Brownie troop was timely, given the Girl Scouts of America’s active interest in fostering exploration in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) disciplines. The visit included a Q&A about the field of neuroscience, a real human brain demonstration, and two lab “rotations” – a wet lab and craft lab.

In the wet lab, the girls explored real specimens including brains of various organisms (human, sheep, cow, rat, cat). In the craft lab, the girls made brain models out of play-doh, each lobe in a different color. The Ambassadors guided the children through observation and exploration of the various parts of the brain, comparing the brains of the different organisms and relating the structures to functions.

“This is the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb carries information about smell from the nose into the brain so that we can figure out what we are smelling. What do you notice about the olfactory bulb of the human compared to the olfactory bulb of the sheep? Why is it that even though the human brain is much larger than the sheep brain, the olfactory bulb of the sheep is much larger than the olfactory bulb of the human?” 

Rather than looking for correct answers, the CNLM Ambassadors aim to instill a curiosity and wonder about the brain and teach children how to think like scientists – methodically and critically. “The impact begins before the children even interact with the scientists.

“The minute they see the lab coats, the gloves, and the brains, their hearts begin to race. They have already made a memory that will last a lifetime” says Manuella Yassa.

The CNLM has visits scheduled to several schools, community centers, and Girl Scout troops in the coming months and will soon be announcing a brand new program for children ages 8-15, the “UCI Brain Academy”. Follow @ucicnlm on Twitter and Facebook and join our mailing list to stay informed!

Thank you to the Dana Foundation’s Brain Awareness Campaign for their support. 

One Man’s Lifelong Odyssey: By Norman Weinberger

Professor Weinberger wrote the following article in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the University of California, Irvine’s Psychobiology department (now the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior). Download the PDF here.

Prof. Norman Weinberger (left) pictured with lifelong friend Prof. James McGaugh.

“The University of California will be opening new Campuses and I’ll get a job at one of them.” This, in response to my wife Jacquie’s simple question of what would happen next if we moved (ourselves and our three young children) to California. It was 1960 and I was in the last year of study for a doctorate in experimental psychology at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, our hometowns. I had been unsatisfied with the study of behavior purely at the behavioral level and believed that UCLA or UCSF were the best places to undertake postdoctoral study in the rapidly developing field of brain sciences. Indeed, UCLA was then starting to build the Brain Research Institute (BRI). My answer, intended to be reassuring, had only two problems. First, I did not know if I could obtain a post-doctoral position in California. Second, I had absolutely no knowledge that any new UC Campuses would be built. Furthermore, there was no reason to believe that, even if both came to pass, I would secure a highly coveted faculty position. There are at least two judgments of my answer: it was highly duplicitous or it was overly optimistic! But at its foundation, Jacquie and I have trusted and supported each other for more than sixty years, through all the vagaries of life, including being fortunate enough to have seven wonderful people as our children: Amy, Linda, Eric, Tami, Jenny, Lisa and Andrea.

Donald B. Lindsley, of UCLA’s Departments of Psychology and Physiology, was the most distinguished “physiological psychologist” of the mid-20th Century. He had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences for paradigm-shifting research. He co-discovered the reticular activating system, which is the foundation for our contemporary understanding of the regulation of the cerebral cortex and behavioral state, and the basis for the modern field of neuromodulation. Dr. Lindsley accepted my postdoctoral application and provided both inspiration and practical support during my three and a half years in his laboratory, June, 1961 – December, 1964. The BRI was an exciting and stimulating place, and I had the opportunity to meet most of the world’s major brain scientists as they visited.

Dr. Lindsley asked me to investigate the medial thalamic component of the reticular system as its stimulation could also produce widespread cortical activation. This required that I learn something of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, neurohistology, electronics, plus electrode construction and animal surgery. Largely self-taught, I stumbled my way into neuroscience, linking the “thalamic reticular system” (TRS) to behavioral arousal and also to associative learning. This largely unsupervised work resulted in seven papers; the bottom line was that direct TRS projections to the cortex were not activating but rather the opposite, i.e., they promoted slow wave and other sleep-like brain rhythms. Its ability to activate both the EEG and behavior appeared to depend upon its descending projections to the basal forebrain area, which was later found to drive the cholinergic nucleus basalis to activate the cortex.

UC’s plans to shortly open three new Campuses caught my attention in 1963. Oddly, this information came by happenstance rather than by announcement. Two of Jim McGaugh’s undergraduate students at the University of Oregon, Les Fehmi and Joel Adkins, happened to be graduate students in Lindsley’s lab, and they seemed well-informed. In early 1964, Dr. Lindsley arranged for Jim, as the newly appointed chair of Psychobiology at UCI, to meet with me during a visit to UCLA. I later interviewed with him in Portland, Oregon at the Western Psychological Association meeting. Jim’s hotel room was littered with both behavioral and electrophysiological equipment catalogs as he had to set up planned undergraduate and graduate teaching laboratories. My experience in having built both behavioral and electrophysiological set-ups was a positive. In the Spring of 1964, Jim interviewed me again, this time overlooking the UCI building site from the corner of MacArthur and Bison. A grand view from the silo-barn complex of William Pereira, master architect for the project, revealed only several large holes in the ground. But since Jim and I shared the same vision of a new type of brain-behavior department, the lack of brick and mortar was no obstacle. His call came in April and there was never the slightest doubt about joining him in this quest which is now fifty years of age.

Arriving at UCI January1st 1965, our labs were housed in “temporary” buildings on the North Campus. Planning for the Department was intensive and we were joined by Dick Whalen, who studied hormones and animal behavior whom. At the time, I certainly did not realize that Psychobiology (the brainchild in both concept and name of our founding dean Edward Steinhaus) was itself an “experiment”. We were allocated only our three faculty slots, the fewest number that could constitute an independent department at UC. If we failed, there would be less “debris” to clear. In fact, within two years, Psychobiology received more applications for our graduate program than the rest of UCI combined.

We established the Department on the basis of several principles. First, Psychobiology would be an integrated department, covering brain and behavior across levels, from the molecular/chemical through cells, circuits, systems and behavior. Second, new faculty would be able to appreciate the research of existing faculty, and vice-versa. This was intended to promote both formal and informal collaborations, prevent fragmentation and foster commitment to the common good. Third, graduate students would be admitted by the Department, not by individual faculty, and would be able to move among labs as the situation dictated. Fourth, there would be one class of graduate students, not separate research and teaching assistants; all students would teach and all would do research of high quality. (We had all come from standard graduate programs in which those supported by teaching funds received less pay and a heavier work load than students receiving stipends from research grants.) We established this principle not only to be fair, but also to encourage cooperative interactions among students from various labs.

We admitted our inaugural class of six graduate students in September 1965. Within a few years, they added another principle. Insofar as they were required to teach the undergraduate labs, they requested, and quickly received, permission to also have responsibility. They wrote the lab manuals, devised the demonstrations and as we grew, organized themselves into committees each of which devised and proofed the lab exercises.

Psychobiology continued to grow over the first ten years. Our faculty recruiting focused on realizing the plan to cover all levels of research and, by and large, this goal was realized. Personally, because there were not enough faculty to accomplish the myriad jobs tasks necessary to operate a research university, I immediately became heavily involved in administrative matters. At one time, I believe that I was either chair or a member of a dozen Campus-wide committees, ranging from the operation of the libraries through undergraduate admissions, health sciences planning, the committee on academic freedom and delegate to the University-wide Committee on Educational Policy. I learned how things should work, why they often did not work and how to use interpretive creativity to get them to work. For this insane amount of activity, I received the UCI Outstanding Service Award in 1975. I have served with pleasure as Chair of the Department, and also in several key posts of the School of Biological Sciences, including Dean, and found that I much preferred other duties.

In research, my initial goal was to find out how a behaviorally neutral sensory stimulus gained associative power and ultimately produced adaptive behavior. I chose to use the auditory system because there was a wealth of basic anatomical and physiological knowledge and it was relatively easy to precisely control sound parameters. Unexpectedly, the study of neurobehavioral processes in auditory associative learning led to a paradigm shift in conceptions of the general functional organization of the cerebral cortex.

The standard model for more than 100 years has been that sensory stimuli are processed within a modality up to the primary (now often called “early”) sensory cortex: auditory (A1), somatosensory (S1)and visual (V1). After analysis and identification, this information was passed on to “higher” sensory cortex where its behavioral meaning or relevance was determined. Thereafter, other “higher” cortical areas conducted further processing until behavior was initiated in the motor systems. This concept is so deeply ingrained in neuroscience that it is virtually impossible to find an explicit discussion of it anywhere. In effect, this doctrine assigned primary sensory fields as the only parts of the cerebral cortex that did not directly participate in learning and memory; thus, they should not develop plasticity during the acquisition and storage of information. However, as early as the mid-1950s, increases in auditory evoked potentials to acoustic conditioned stimuli had been reported in A1. We decided to determine whether or not associative plasticity truly did develop in primary auditory cortex. A list of the necessary controls ex from undetected contractions of the middle ear muscles through assessment of the thalamic auditory system would take too much space, but this line of research did occupy our lab for almost a dozen years. We found that associative plasticity was genuine.

However, our reports had little impact on the field as a whole. We realized that sensory neuroscientists would not take note until we demonstrated that learning, systematically altered the parameters they studied, i.e., sensory receptive fields. Therefore, in the mid-1980s, we first determined the effects of classical conditioning on receptive field frequency tuning in the auditory system. The results were beyond our expectations. Associative processes could rapidly and specifically shift tuning to the frequency of any tone conditioned stimulus that signaled reinforcement. By 1990, we had firmly established a new form of plasticity in A1, termed “representation plasticity” (RP). Whereas “plasticity” is very widely applied to almost any instance of non-transient neural change, representational plasticity consists of systematic modification of a parameter of sound, e.g., acoustic frequency. The implications of representational plasticity transcend local plasticity because RP alters the processing of future sounds within the modified acoustic dimension.

Professor Weinberger with Mrs. Jacquie Weinberger (left) and Mrs. Audrey Schneiderman (right).

During the past 25 years, research has been extended internationally and RP has been found to be ubiquitous, developing across species (including humans), in all tested sensory systems for all relevant stimulus parameters, during a wide variety of tasks and types of motivation. Sufficiently numerous individual tuning shifts produce specific gains in representational area within primary cortical “maps”, the amount of which is directly proportional to both the cue’s level of acquired importance and its memory strength. In parallel studies of the cholinergic nucleus basalis we found a likely candidate mechanism for the formation of specific memory in the primary auditory cortex. The engagement of mAChRs in A1 by pairing a tone with stimulation of the nucleus basalis induces specific tuning shifts identical to those that develop during natural learning and, most importantly, also produces specific behavioral memory that has the same features as natural associative memory. Furthermore, even when animals mis-remember the exact frequency of a paired tone, there is a precise match between their memory and the frequency of the expanded A1 representation. Together with prior findings for detection, correlation and mimicry of plasticity with the acquisition of memory, these findings satisfy a key criterion for a neural substrate of memory in primary auditory cortex. Thus, the assumed strict cortical separation between sensory analysis and learning about the world in which we live is wrong. As the neural substrates of learning and memory form at the first stage of cortical sensory processing, a new functional model is required, one that is far more integrative than the dogma of the last 100 years.

Along the way, I have dabbled in topics less fundable but of personal interest, primarily music and the brain. I believe that our research is relevant to learning in general, particularly to auditory learning, which is a major component of music. We published some papers showing that neurons in A1 could encode sequences of notes, not simply respond to individual tones. I served as Executive Director of the International Foundation for Music Research for three years and found both enjoyment and public service in writing articles for the general public on the importance of music education and explaining contemporary findings in music science (www.musica.uci.edu).

Prof. Weinberger and Prof. McGaugh celebrating the groundbreaking of the Bonney Research Laboratory Building

One of the main professional joys of my life has been the founding and subsequent contributions of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory in 1982. In addition to the stimulating regular discussions among the members, we organized and hosted several major international conferences over a period of several years. These each had a focus on a particular problem in learning and memory and brought together premier neuroscientists internationally. Both the meetings themselves and the monographs they produced were highly influential in promoting the field.

I have been extremely fortunate to have the lab funded continuously from 1966 to 2019. Whatever it has accomplished reflects the efforts and dedication of the many outstanding undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and research associates who transformed our laboratory spaces into vibrant and scintillating workshops of the mind and of the brain. They certainly deserve whatever credit is due but I will not attempt to list them here. I do want to give special acknowledgment to Jim McGaugh who has and continues to be close friend and colleague and a constant source of strength.

In closing, I want to dedicate this account to two men whose untimely passing remains a crushing blow to friends and family. Howard Schneiderman, the third dean of the School, provided wisdom, humor, enthusiasm and support, plus convincing us to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, where my family summered for more than 30 years. John Ashe received his doctorate in my laboratory and after post-doctoral work in synaptic physiology later became Chair of Psychology at UC Riverside. A man of the highest integrity and clear vision, I undoubtedly learned more from him than he from me. Certainly, he tutored me on the cholinergic system after his appointment at UCR, and we enjoyed a fruitful collaboration for several years. No finer man have I ever encountered.

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Learn more about Professor Weinberger and the Weinberger Memorial Graduate Student Award by clicking here.

Introducing the winner of the LEARNMEM2018 SciTechEdit International Travel Award!

One (1) Travel Fellowship in the amount of US$1,500 was awarded to a non-native English-speaking foreign scientist to travel to and present at the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory (LEARNMEM2018). This Fellowship is supported by a generous grant from SciTechEdit International, an organization that works closely with scientists to help them produce clear, well-constructed manuscripts describing their scientific, medical, and technical research findings for publication in English-language journals. They provide prepublication services, including editing, polishing, proofreading, and translation of scientific manuscripts.

The SciTechEdit International Travel Fellowship was awarded to Marlieke van Kesteren, Ph.D. (@marliekevk), postdoctoral scholar in educational neuroscience at VU Amsterdam in The Netherlands. Congratulations Marlieke!

Dr. van Kesteren will be presenting a lightning talk titled “Integrating memories: How congruency affects reinstatement of old and integration with new memories” at next years International Conference on Learning and Memory.

Click here to learn more about the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory

Click here to learn more about SciTechEdit International