Neuronal Plasticity, Learning, and Memory
Who we are as human individuals is determined to a large degree by the sum-total of our memories, be they intimate recollections, precious facts, useful skills or convenient habits. Furthermore, we now know that the brain systems that permit us to mentally reenact selected moments of our personal past also enables us to embark on a private mental time travel to the future, plan, simulate scenarios and fly on the wings of our imagination. How does the brain accomplish all that? And why is it that sometimes our memory tricks us to confound the real with the imaginary, and that sometimes it may even fail us completely? Why is it, for example, that sometimes we are quick to abandon veridical recollections for erroneous information shared with us by others? And can we enhance memory on the one hand, and prevent or ameliorate memory deficits on the other?
These and related questions concerning memory are the focus of research of several research group in our Department. Together, we tackle memory at multiple levels of analyses, ranging from the basic neuronal machinery that implements synaptic and neuronal plasticity - i.e. elementary building blocks of systems that encode and store memory - to the concerted activity of neuronal circuits that encode and maintain experience-dependent mental representations of the world, to the brain systems that store mental images of events in our life and of places that we visited, and those that control the expression of these recollections at any given point in time. Some of us also investigate the processes and mechanisms that shape the memory of individuals in social milieu. Our multidisciplinary, multi-level experimental approach to neuronal plasticity, learning and memory encompasses a spectrum of cutting-edge methods, ranging from state-of-the-art molecular biology and electrophysiology in animal models to sophisticated psychophysics and behavior, modeling, and the most advanced behavioral protocols and functional neuroimaging of the behaving human brain.