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Research Projects

Animal models of episodic memory

Memory is essential for daily life and enables information to be stored and retrieved after seconds to years. Episodic memory consists of representations of unique past events. A vast range of amnesic syndromes in humans produce prominent deficits in episodic memory, and so it is imperative to understand its underlying mechanisms and neural substrate. Work by our group and others suggests that elements of episodic memory can be modeled in non-human animals including rats. These insights hold promise for translational research and may foster the development of therapeutic approaches to human diseases with profound cognitive impairments. We have used a multi-method approach to develop an animal model of episodic memory, including documentation that: rats remember what-where-when an event occurred, rats can answer an unexpected question after incidental encoding, and rats remember the source by which information was obtained (source memory).

Animal models of prospective memory

People "remember to remember." The hallmark of prospective memory is that, as the time to execute a remembered plan draws near, a deleterious effect on ongoing behavior occurs because greater attentional resources are diverted to the now activated prospective memory. According to this working model, when people form a prospective memory, they temporarily put the memory representation into an inactive state while engaging in other activities. Later, the representation is reactivated in the future. Ultimately, successful activation of the memory representation yields an action at an appropriate future time. Prospective memory failures may occur when the memory representation fails to be reactivated at an appropriate time. We have developed a rodent model of prospective memory, focusing on time-based prospective memory and event-based prospective memory. Current research is focused on modeling cognitive decline in aging using prospective memory.

Animal models of retrieval practice

Although it is intuitive that the best way to learn new information is to study, there is a large body of modern research in human cognition that suggests that we benefit from taking a memory test. The theoretical proposal is that retrieving a memory of previously studied information enhances performance on subsequent memory assessments. In the human literature, the improvement attributed to retrieval practice rivals that of deep, elaborative studying strategies. We are exploring the possibility that rats benefit from practicing memory retrieval.