Our lab studies the neural mechanisms of memory in the everyday sense of the word: the ability to learn new facts and remember recent events. Although for many years scientists believed that only one form of learning existed in the brain, we now know that different brain networks are crucial for different types of learning. For example, the hippocampus is needed to learn and remember new facts and recent events, the amygdala is crucial for earning emotional associations, and the neostriatum is required for certain forms of skill learning. My research focuses on how the hippocampus, refrontal cortex, and other brain areas contribute to memory in experimental animals, mostly rats, and how mechanisms of neuronal plasticity within these structures contribute to memory functions. Experiments in my lab are guided by cognitive, computational, physiological, and pharmacological hypotheses.
The basic idea is that the properties of the NMDA receptor allows cells in the hippocampus to conjoin temporally overlapping cortical inputs into representations of events, and that recurrent connections within the hippocampus and between it and other structures allow these events to be linked into the sequences that comprise episodic memories. Interactions between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex allow specific memories to guide response rules, and different strategies and motives allow the prefrontal cortex to select among memories in otherwise identical situations. Experiments investigating the links between these different levels of analysis are aimed toward providing an integrated perspective of memory.


Matthew Shapiro, PhD
j Neuroscience Kennedy, P.J. & Shapiro, M.L. (2009). Contextual memory retrieval: motivational states activate distinct hippocampal representations. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA published online before print June 15, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas.0903259106.
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