The brain's sensory cortex - which receives and interprets information gathered by the body's various senses - has a quality called 'plasticity', which allows it to reorganize itself in response to experience. New research in rats now shows how the brain goes about the task of reordering itself in this way.
Robert Froemke and colleagues activated a brain region called the nucleus basalis, which is not part of the sensory cortex but is thought to be important inmodulating its function, while playing rats a particular sound. They found that the paired stimulation led to a transient reduction in the inhibition of nerve cells in the cortex while reshaping it to be more sensitive to this particular sound.
Writing in Nature, the researchers suggest that a similar pairing process may underlie the natural formation of memory for those sensory experiences that have more significance for the animal.
Robert Froemke (University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA)
(C) Nature press release.
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