The ability to form and retrieve memories is central to survival. In mammals, the hippocampus is a brain region essential to the acquisition and consolidation of new memories. It is also involved in keeping track of one’s position in space and aids navigation. Although this space-memory has been a source of contradiction, evidence supports the view that the role of the hippocampus in navigation is memory, thanks to the formation of cognitive maps. First introduced by Tolman in 1948, cognitive maps are generally used to organize experiences in memory; however, the detailed mechanisms by which these maps are formed and stored are not yet agreed upon. Some influential theories describe this process as involving three fundamental steps: initial encoding by the hippocampus, interactions between the hippocampus and other cortical areas, and long-term extra-hippocampal consolidation. In this thesis, I will show how the investigation of cognitive maps of space helped to shed light on each of these three memory processes. The first study included in this thesis deals with the initial encoding of spatial memories in the hippocampus. Much is known about encoding at the level of single cells, but less about their co-activity or joint contribution to the encoding of novel spatial information. I will describe the structure of an interaction network that allows for efficient encoding of noisy spatial information during the first exploration of a novel environment. The second study describes the interactions between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), two areas directly and indirectly connected. It is known that the PFC, in concert with the hippocampus, is involved in various processes, including memory storage and spatial navigation. Nonetheless, the detailed mechanisms by which PFC receives information from the hippocampus are not clear. I will show how a transient improvement in theta phase locking of PFC cells enables interactions of cell pairs across the two regions. The third study describes the learning of behaviorally-relevant spatial locations in the hippocampus and the medial entorhinal cortex. I will show how the accumulation of firing around goal locations, a correlate of learning, can shed light on the transition from short- to long-term spatial memories and the speed of consolidation in different brain areas. The studies included in this thesis represent the main scientific contributions of my Ph.D. They involve statistical analyses and models of neural responses of cells in different brain areas of rats executing spatial tasks. I will conclude the thesis by discussing the impact of the findings on principles of memory formation and retention, including the mechanisms, the speed, and the duration of these processes.
I acknowledge the support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 665385.
Nardin M. On the encoding, transfer, and consolidation of spatial memories. 2022. doi:10.15479/at:ista:11932
Nardin, M. (2022). On the encoding, transfer, and consolidation of spatial memories. Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA). https://doi.org/10.15479/at:ista:11932
Nardin, Michele. “On the Encoding, Transfer, and Consolidation of Spatial Memories.” Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA), 2022. https://doi.org/10.15479/at:ista:11932.
M. Nardin, “On the encoding, transfer, and consolidation of spatial memories,” Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA), 2022.
Nardin M. 2022. On the encoding, transfer, and consolidation of spatial memories. Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA).
Nardin, Michele. On the Encoding, Transfer, and Consolidation of Spatial Memories. Institute of Science and Technology Austria (ISTA), 2022, doi:10.15479/at:ista:11932.
Michele_Nardin_Phd_Thesis_PDFA.pdf 9.91 MB
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