Neuroscientists identify brain circuit that encodes timing of events

When we encounter a new celebration, our mind information a memory of not only what took place, but also the context, which include the time and locale of the celebration. A new examine from MIT neuroscientists sheds mild on how the timing of memory is encoded in the hippocampus and implies that time and place are encoded separately.

In a examine of mice, the researchers recognized a hippocampal circuit that the animals used to shop information and facts about the timing of when they must turn still left or ideal in a maze. When this circuit was blocked, the mice were unable to bear in mind which way they were intended to turn up coming. Nonetheless, disrupting the circuit did not appear to impair their memory of wherever they were in place.

MIT neuroscientists have identified that pyramidal cells (inexperienced) in the CA2 area of the hippocampus are dependable for storing significant timing information and facts. Picture credit: The Tonegawa Lab, edited by MIT Information

The findings insert to a rising entire body of proof suggesting that when we sort new reminiscences, distinct populations of neurons in the mind encode time and place information and facts, the researchers say.

“There is an rising perspective that ‘place cells’ and ‘time cells’ manage reminiscences by mapping information and facts onto the hippocampus. This spatial and temporal context serves as a scaffold that enables us to build our very own personalized timeline of reminiscences,” states Chris MacDonald, a exploration scientist at MIT’s Picower Institute for Mastering and Memory and the direct author of the examine.

Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at the RIKEN-MIT Laboratory of Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute, is the senior author of the examine, which appears in the Proceedings of the Countrywide Academy of Sciences.

Time and place

About fifty many years ago, neuroscientists learned that the brain’s hippocampus has neurons that encode reminiscences of unique destinations. These cells, regarded as place cells, shop information and facts that results in being part of the context of a certain memory.

The other significant piece of context for any provided memory is the timing. In 2011, MacDonald and the late Howard Eichenbaum, a professor of psychological and mind sciences at Boston College, learned cells that keep observe of time, in a part of the hippocampus termed CA1.

In that examine, MacDonald, who was then a postdoc at Boston College, identified that these cells showed unique timing-related firing designs when mice were properly trained to associate two stimuli — an item and an odor — that were offered with a ten-2nd hold off between them. When the hold off was extended to twenty seconds, the cells reorganized their firing designs to final twenty seconds rather of ten.

“It’s just about like they are forming a new illustration of a temporal context, substantially like a spatial context,” MacDonald states. “The rising perspective appears to be to be that equally place and time cells manage memory by mapping encounter to a illustration of context that is defined by time and place.”

In the new examine, the researchers preferred to investigate which other parts of the mind may well be feeding CA1 timing information and facts. Some previous scientific tests had suggested that a nearby part of the hippocampus termed CA2 may well be included in keeping observe of time. CA2 is a incredibly little area of the hippocampus that has not been thoroughly analyzed, but it has been proven to have potent connections to CA1.

To examine the hyperlinks between CA2 and CA1, the researchers used an engineered mouse design in which they could use mild to regulate the action of neurons in the CA2 area. They properly trained the mice to run a figure-eight maze in which they would generate a reward if they alternated turning still left and ideal every single time they ran the maze. Amongst every single trial, they ran on a treadmill for ten seconds, and during this time, they had to bear in mind which course they had turned on the previous trial, so they could do the opposite on the impending trial.

When the researchers turned off CA2 action although the mice were on the treadmill, they identified that the mice done incredibly badly at the activity, suggesting that they could no lengthier bear in mind which course they had turned in the previous trial.

“When the animals are performing ordinarily, there is a sequence of cells in CA1 that ticks off during this temporal coding period,” MacDonald states. “When you inhibit the CA2, what you see is the temporal coding in CA1 results in being much less specific and more smeared out in time. It results in being destabilized, and that appears to be to correlate with them also performing badly on that activity.”

Memory circuits

When the researchers used mild to inhibit CA2 neurons although the mice were managing the maze, they identified little outcome on the CA1 “place cells” that enable the mice to bear in mind wherever they are. The findings counsel that spatial and timing information and facts are encoded preferentially by distinct parts of the hippocampus, MacDonald states.

“One thing that is enjoyable about this perform is this thought that spatial and temporal information and facts can function in parallel and may well merge or different at distinct points in the circuit, based on what you have to have to achieve from a memory standpoint,” he states.

MacDonald is now arranging further scientific tests of time perception, which include how we perceive time underneath distinct circumstances, and how our perception of time influences our conduct. Yet another dilemma he hopes to go after is whether or not the mind has distinct mechanisms for keeping observe of gatherings that are divided by seconds and gatherings that are divided by substantially lengthier periods of time.

“Somehow the information and facts that we shop in memory preserves the sequential order of gatherings across incredibly distinct timescales, and I’m incredibly interested in how it is that we’re ready to do that,” he states.

Penned by Anne Trafton

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technologies