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A glimpse into the 3-D brain: How memories form

Novel technology: Computer simulation of the hippocampus

Ruhr-University Bochum

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IMAGE: This is a 3-D image of the hippocampus of a rat. view more

Credit: M. Pyka

The way neurons are interconnected in the brain is very complicated. This holds especially true for the cells of the hippocampus. It is one of the oldest brain regions and its form resembles a see horse (hippocampus in Latin). The hippocampus enables us to navigate space securely and to form personal memories. So far, the anatomic knowledge of the networks inside the hippocampus and its connection to the rest of the brain has left scientists guessing which information arrived where and when.

Signals spread through the brain

Accordingly, Dr Martin Pyka and his colleagues from the Mercator Research Group have developed a method which facilitates the reconstruction of the brain's anatomic data as a 3D model on the computer. This approach is quite unique, because it enables automatic calculation of the neural interconnection on the basis of their position inside the space and their projection directions. Biologically feasible network structures can thus be generated more easily than it used to be the case with the method available to date. Deploying 3D models, the researchers use this technique to monitor the way neural signals spread throughout the network time-wise. They have, for example, found evidence that the hippocampus' form and size could explain why neurons in those networks fire in certain frequencies.

Information become memories

In future, this method may help us understand how animals, for example, combine various information to form memories within the hippocampus, in order to memorise food sources or dangers and to remember them in certain situations.

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About the Mercator Research Group "Structure of Memory"

In a joined project with the Mercator Foundation, Ruhr-Universität Bochum has set up the Mercator Research Group "Structure of Memory". Experimental and theoretical neuroscientists as well as philosophers make up the team, which has been studying episodic and semantic memory processes and the way they relate to other cognitive functions since 2010.

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