Interactive Memory Systems in the Mammalian Brain

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Towson University Research & Creative Inquiry Forum

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Following the famous case of H.M. who received a bilateral medial temporal lobectomy causing severe anterograde amnesia, animal researchers investigated the role of different structures in cognitive memory formation, with spared habit formation as in H.M. These investigations eventually led to a dissociation of memory systems that can function independently and in parallel. The first evidence for an interaction between memory systems revealed that they compete for behavioral control. Several follow-up experiments have supported the competitive nature of interactions. More recent studies, however, have shown that under different testing conditions memory systems often cooperate in spatial-cognitive tasks. Neuroimaging studies have reinterpreted what appeared to be competition at a neural level to functional cooperation at a behavioral/cognitive level. The acknowledgment of cooperative interactions was met with initial resistance according to Morgan’s cannon. However such interpretations were oversimplified, and impeded research on the many instances where the systems cooperate, and who’s dysfunction may contribute to several psychological and neurodegenerative disorders in need of improved treatments based on more realistic views of interactive brain functions, including the synaptic level where the role of astrocytes and gliotransmitters are beginning to reveal new therapeutic targets for memory dysfunction in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions.