2012-2013 ARDRAF Project

Who forgot the hippocampus? Potential involvement in the neural circuitry of attentional control

VCoA-at-VCU*The Virginia Center on Aging which administers the Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund for the Commonwealth of Virginia, provides seed money to researchers in Virginia to stimulate innovative research into biomedical and psychosocial aspects of dementia, including cell biology, caregiving, and animal modeling.


 

Who forgot the hippocampus? Potential involvement in the neural circuitry of attentional control

Megan M. St. Peters, PhD

Ferrum College 

The ability to focus on important stimuli and ignore irrelevant stimuli in our environment is essential to the “top down” control of attention. It is suggested that the memory of what is important in an environment is essential to this top-down control, and recent research suggests that attentional impairments may precede or largely contribute to the memory problems associated with AD. Yet studies examining the brain pathways involved in attention have failed to examine the role of the hippocampus, a brain region commonly associated with memory loss and AD. This project uses a rodent model to examine the influence of the hippocampus on performance in cognitive tasks when irrelevant distractors are introduced. The goal is to provide insight into the behavioral and neural interplay between memory and the top down control of attention.

(Dr. St. Peters may be contacted at 540/365-6947; mstpeters@ferrum.edu)

REPORT:

The ability to focus on important stimuli and ignore irrelevant stimuli in our environment is essential to the “top down” control of attention. It is suggested that the memory of what is important in an environment is essential to this top-down control, and recent research suggests that attentional impairments may precede or largely contribute to the memory problems associated with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type (DAT). Yet studies examining the brain pathways involved in attention have failed to examine the role of the hippocampus, a brain region commonly associated with memory loss and DAT. The current pilot study tested a rodent model with cholinergic deafferentation of the hippocampus in an operant sustained attention task. Task parameters enabled the introduction of irrelevant distractors in order to assess top down control of attention. Although there was a relatively small sample size (n = 6 per group), the data suggest no effect of lesion. However, several parameters (toxin site location, concentration, and task) can be further explored in future research to better understand the potential neural interplay between memory and attention.

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