New research suggests two brain areas critical for short-term memory

ood as an incentive, the rat pressed the lever and then had to perform another behavior on the opposite side of the cage for 1 second to 30 seconds as a distraction. When the animal returned after the delay, both the "right" and "left" levers were showing. To get the task correct, the rat now had to press the lever opposite from the one selected at the beginning of the trial.

Electrode recordings of cell activity in both brain areas unexpectedly showed that when the imposed delay was less than 15 seconds, only the subiculum recorded the information. But, when the delay was longer, the subiculum became inactive while the hippocampus switched on and took over control of the memory requirements of the task.

The research also revealed another important finding about the hippocampus. When it switched on to complete the trial, the memory was biased by past experience. This strategy allowed the hippocampus to anticipate future events based on past outcomes.

With the rat trials, the hippocampus did not start from scratch. Because of this strategy in some cases it would "expect" the trials to alternate "left," then "right," and fired cells to remember the alternate lever even before the trial began.

"When the hippocampus relies on previous experience, and doesn't use current events, the rat can get the task wrong because the anticipatory firing is actually controlling the animal's behavior," said Hampson.

In humans, this is similar to someone who takes the same highway exit each day to get to work. He may end up taking that route even when he's not supposed to such as on a day he needed to go to the dentist before work.

"When this happens, you're using a behavioral pattern that is remembered by your hippocampus," said Deadwyler. "When you get in your car in the morning, you trigger that pattern and your hippocampus then takes over. Based on familiar landmarks, it then guides you toward your destination. But, you're acting in

Contact: Karen Richardson
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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