The most detailed mapping of our brain’s memory bank reveals something surprising: ScienceAlert

The most detailed mapping of our brain’s memory bank reveals something surprising: ScienceAlert

The most detailed mapping of our brain’s memory bank reveals something surprising: ScienceAlert

Scientists have created the most detailed map to date of the neural pathways that connect the memory bank of our gray matter – the hippocampus – to the rest of the brain, revealing unexpected patterns of connections between regions.

“We were surprised to find fewer connections between the hippocampus and frontal cortical areas and more connections with early visual processing areas than we expected to see,” says Psychologist from the University of Sydney Marshall Dalton.

Although there is still much debate about the hippocampus’ precise role in memory, neuroscientists are convinced that it plays a key role in building memory and integrating it with our perception to allow us to make decisions about the future.

A better understanding of how the hippocampus works in context with other parts of the brain could one day help us tackle memory decline.

Using a new recording technique called diffusion weighted imaging – kind MRI scan that uses the diffusion of water molecules through tissues to generate contrast – Dalton and colleagues created a high-resolution map of the connections between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex from the brains of seven adult women under the age of 35.

“We have now developed a custom method that allows us to confirm where different cortical areas connect in the hippocampus. This has not yet been done in the living human brain,” says Dalton.

“What we’ve done is we’ve looked much more closely at white matter pathways, which are essentially communication pathways between different areas of the brain.”

The researchers discovered that the hippocampus has different messaging networks, each connected to specific areas of the cortex. Our previous knowledge of these connections comes from dissections of primate brains, and the resulting brain map is largely consistent with them.

But the researchers found a much higher level of connections in the visual processing area of ​​the human brain and less in the frontal cortical areas.

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Post-mortem analysis performed on non-human primates can reveal finer details down to the cellular level, so it may be that we have not yet been able to resolve all these connections in humans.

“Or it could be that the human hippocampus actually has fewer connections with frontal areas than we expect and more connections with visual areas of the brain,” Dalton explains.

“This makes sense given that the hippocampus plays an important role not only in memory, but also in imagination and our ability to construct mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Other recent studies have also found associations between these areas of the brain. The team is curious to see if similar patterns are consistent across people of different demographics.

“As the neocortex expanded, humans may have developed different connectivity patterns to facilitate human-specific memory and visualization functions that, in turn, may support human creativity,” Dalton continues.

“It’s a bit of a puzzle – we just don’t know. But we love puzzles and we’ll keep exploring.”

This research was published in eLife.

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