A pinboard by
Megha Sehgal

Postdoctoral fellow, University of California Los Angeles


Linking memories to form novel inferences and for semantic knowledge of the world

Modern neuroscientists have made incredible progress in understanding how single memories are stored, recalled and updated with time. However, little is known about how we integrate various memories to form cohesive representation of the world. Such integration is necessary for linking memories encoded close in time e.g. leaving your car unlocked earlier in the day is linked with a stolen bag from the car, as well as those memories that share common elements e.g. avoiding traffic routes that may get congested during rain/snow. To study which brain cells are storing a particular memory, we use highly miniaturized versions of a microscope called UCLA miniscopes. These microscopes can be mounted on a mouse's head to study neuronal (brain cell) activation in real time. Using this technology, we have found that two memories encoded close in time are stored in a common population of cells such that when one is activated, the other memory is also recalled. I am currently working to understand the mechanisms that underlie selection of overlapping cells to store distinct memories.


Encoding and storage of spatial information in the retrosplenial cortex.

Abstract: The retrosplenial cortex (RSC) is part of a network of interconnected cortical, hippocampal, and thalamic structures harboring spatially modulated neurons. The RSC contains head direction cells and connects to the parahippocampal region and anterior thalamus. Manipulations of the RSC can affect spatial and contextual tasks. A considerable amount of evidence implicates the role of the RSC in spatial navigation, but it is unclear whether this structure actually encodes or stores spatial information. We used a transgenic mouse in which the expression of green fluorescent protein was under the control of the immediate early gene c-fos promoter as well as time-lapse two-photon in vivo imaging to monitor neuronal activation triggered by spatial learning in the Morris water maze. We uncovered a repetitive pattern of cell activation in the RSC consistent with the hypothesis that during spatial learning an experience-dependent memory trace is formed in this structure. In support of this hypothesis, we also report three other observations. First, temporary RSC inactivation disrupts performance in a spatial learning task. Second, we show that overexpressing the transcription factor CREB in the RSC with a viral vector, a manipulation known to enhance memory consolidation in other circuits, results in spatial memory enhancements. Third, silencing the viral CREB-expressing neurons with the allatostatin system occludes the spatial memory enhancement. Taken together, these results indicate that the retrosplenial cortex engages in the formation and storage of memory traces for spatial information.

Pub.: 10 Jun '14, Pinned: 14 Jul '17

CREB regulates memory allocation in the insular cortex.

Abstract: The molecular and cellular mechanisms of memory storage have attracted a great deal of attention. By comparison, little is known about memory allocation, the process that determines which specific neurons in a neural network will store a given memory. Previous studies demonstrated that memory allocation is not random in the amygdala; these studies showed that amygdala neurons with higher levels of the cyclic-AMP-response-element-binding protein (CREB) are more likely to be recruited into encoding and storing fear memory. To determine whether specific mechanisms also regulate memory allocation in other brain regions and whether CREB also has a role in this process, we studied insular cortical memory representations for conditioned taste aversion (CTA). In this task, an animal learns to associate a taste (conditioned stimulus [CS]) with the experience of malaise (such as that induced by LiCl; unconditioned stimulus [US]). The insular cortex is required for CTA memory formation and retrieval. CTA learning activates a subpopulation of neurons in this structure, and the insular cortex and the basolateral amygdala (BLA) interact during CTA formation. Here, we used a combination of approaches, including viral vector transfections of insular cortex, arc fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), and designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADD) system, to show that CREB levels determine which insular cortical neurons go on to encode a given conditioned taste memory.

Pub.: 03 Dec '14, Pinned: 14 Jul '17

A shared neural ensemble links distinct contextual memories encoded close in time

Abstract: Recent studies suggest that a shared neural ensemble may link distinct memories encoded close in time1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. According to the memory allocation hypothesis1, 2, learning triggers a temporary increase in neuronal excitability13, 14, 15 that biases the representation of a subsequent memory to the neuronal ensemble encoding the first memory, such that recall of one memory increases the likelihood of recalling the other memory. Here we show in mice that the overlap between the hippocampal CA1 ensembles activated by two distinct contexts acquired within a day is higher than when they are separated by a week. Several findings indicate that this overlap of neuronal ensembles links two contextual memories. First, fear paired with one context is transferred to a neutral context when the two contexts are acquired within a day but not across a week. Second, the first memory strengthens the second memory within a day but not across a week. Older mice, known to have lower CA1 excitability15, 16, do not show the overlap between ensembles, the transfer of fear between contexts, or the strengthening of the second memory. Finally, in aged mice, increasing cellular excitability and activating a common ensemble of CA1 neurons during two distinct context exposures rescued the deficit in linking memories. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that contextual memories encoded close in time are linked by directing storage into overlapping ensembles. Alteration of these processes by ageing could affect the temporal structure of memories, thus impairing efficient recall of related information.

Pub.: 23 May '16, Pinned: 14 Jul '17

Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms for Trapping and Activating Emotional Memories.

Abstract: Recent findings suggest that memory allocation to specific neurons (i.e., neuronal allocation) in the amygdala is not random, but rather the transcription factor cAMP-response element binding protein (CREB) modulates this process, perhaps by regulating the transcription of channels that control neuronal excitability. Here, optogenetic studies in the mouse lateral amygdala (LA) were used to demonstrate that CREB and neuronal excitability regulate which neurons encode an emotional memory. To test the role of CREB in memory allocation, we overexpressed CREB in the lateral amygdala to recruit the encoding of an auditory-fear conditioning (AFC) memory to a subset of neurons. Then, post-training activation of these neurons with Channelrhodopsin-2 was sufficient to trigger recall of the memory for AFC, suggesting that CREB regulates memory allocation. To test the role of neuronal excitability in memory allocation, we used a step function opsin (SFO) to transiently increase neuronal excitability in a subset of LA neurons during AFC. Post-training activation of these neurons with Volvox Channelrhodopsin-1 was able to trigger recall of that memory. Importantly, our studies show that activation of the SFO did not affect AFC by either increasing anxiety or by strengthening the unconditioned stimulus. Our findings strongly support the hypothesis that CREB regulates memory allocation by modulating neuronal excitability.

Pub.: 01 Sep '16, Pinned: 14 Jul '17