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2020 Project Proposal

Visualization of a generalized memory trace in the brain

Hadley  Bergstrom (Psychological Science)   

Generalization represents the transfer of conditioned responding to stimuli that perceptually resemble the original conditioned stimulus. Generalization was noted by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, has been demonstrated across both classical and instrumental forms of conditioning, in a wide range of species (from reptiles and amphibians to birds and mammals), and has even been proposed as a universal law in the field of psychology. Despite the immense theoretical importance of generalization in the field of psychology, the nature and site of formation and storage of generalization is poorly defined. One way to study the physical representation of memory in the brain (i.e., the engram) is through genetic “tagging” technology. Genetic tagging allows for the identification and tracking of groups of neurons in the brain over time in a genetically modified mouse model. Recently, we began a transgenic breeding program to produce mice that express a Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) reporter that is restricted to functionally defined (Arc/arg3.1) populations of neurons in the brain (ArcCreERT2). These mice permit indelible genetic access to functionally defined neurons, for the lifetime of the organism. The goal of this URSI project is to conduct a “proof-of-principle” series of experiments to verify the use of the ArcCreERT2 to visualize neurons activated in response to a conditioned stimulus, and under experimental conditions that promote generalization (the passage of time). In this way, we will have the opportunity to identify and directly compare the underlying neuronal ensemble structure of a cued and generalized aversive memory trace.

The URSI project requires interest/experience in psychological science and/or neuroscience. Courses in Introduction to Neuroscience & Behavior (Neuro 105), Research Methods in Physiological Psychology (Psyc 249), and Principles of Physiological Psychology (Psyc 241) are desirable, but not required. Basic animal handling skills, chemistry lab skills, and data analytic skills are also highly desirable. The project will involve working with a team that will include fellow URSI students and faculty. See the Memory Neuroscience Lab website for more information about our research.

How should students express interest in this project?
Please clearly describe in your application any experiences that you feel are relevant to the project. You do not need to contact me prior to submitting an application. I will reach out to students for interviews after the applications are in.

This is a 10 week project running from May 27-July 31