Manipulating memory to fight disease and depression
Memory disorders affect millions of Canadians. In some cases, such as with Alzheimer’s disease, important memories can be lost. In others, persistent memories tied to traumatic events can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To develop better treatments for these maladies, it’s critical to understand how memories are organized and stored in the brain and how they can be altered after they are formed—sometimes by disease.
Paul Frankland, Canada Research Chair in Memory Research and a global leader in the field, combines behaviour, imaging and molecular approaches to study memory.
In particular, his research focuses on how changes in memory organization, from their creation in the hippocampus to their reorganization in the cortex for long-term storage, affects their quality.
He and his team are also building on their discovery that new neurons generated in the hippocampus throughout our lifetimes help the brain create new memories and forget older ones.
As with artificial systems, there is a trade-off in brain networks between plasticity (which is the ability to incorporate new information) and stability, which ensures that incorporating new information does not degrade information already stored in the network.
Frankland will use whole-brain mapping approaches in mice and zebrafish to define memory networks, identify areas of network vulnerability, and use this knowledge to develop strategies to restore memory function.
His team will also use genetic interventions and compounds that emerge from pro-neurogenic drug screens conducted at SickKids hospital to manipulate neurogenesis. By weakening memories after they’ve formed, just like in the film: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, more effective treatments can be developed for addiction and other disorders associated with abnormal memory persistence or rumination.