Marsden 2009-III: Last but not least….

By Fabiana Kubke 20/10/2009

These are the last three neuroscience projects funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society on their last round that I will talk about. For a full list of recipients you can visit their site.

Maurice Curtis from the University of Auckland will examine the source of the stem cells that make up the rostral migratory stream

Image by M Faiz , L Acarin , B Castellano and B Gonzalez

Image by M Faiz , L Acarin , B Castellano and B Gonzalez

There are two regions in the mammalian brain that are able to produce new neurons in the adult brain; one of them is called the subventricular zone. This is a region that sits beneath the wall of the lateral ventricle in the brain, and that continues to produce neurons in the adult brain that will populate the olfactory bulb. Maurice Curtis, will examine in more detail how this subventricular zone is organised. It is clear that it is not homogeneous and so the question is whether the entire subventricular zone contributes equally neurons to the olfactory bulb. This is quite important, since these stem cells are a target for the development of therapies associated with neurodegenerative disease, and the more we know about how adult neurogenesis is regulated, the closer we will come to developing viable clinical strategies.

Brian Hyland from the University of Otago will examine new brain pathways involved in associating stimuli with rewards

One of the most important things we learn is what stimuli to avoid and which ones are safe or beneficial. This learning shapes the way we react to or interact with our environment on a daily basis. Brian Hyland will examine how this learning takes place in an area in the brain called the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus. This region receives information from the visual system and information about states of arousal from the hypothalamus. In turn, the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus sends information to other regions in the brain that are known to be involved in learning. What they propose to do is to record the activity of the neurons in this nucleus during a reward learning behaviour, and, if successful they will be able to characterise a new region that until now was not considered to be a major player in this type of learning.

Harlene Hayne from the University of Otago will study whether verbal reminders can be used to access memory

One thing is to know what is going on around us; a very different thing is to commit those experiences to memory. We use many aids as reminders, such as tying a string around our finger or placing sticky notes around the computer screen, but verbal reminders probably existed way before the two mentioned before. Verbal reminders can activate a variety of memories, such as when you are asked what you were doing when man landed on the moon (ok, some of you may be too young for this one). The age at which we start to access our memories via language is at the heart of this project. The question is, when does this link between language and memory begin to happen in children? And more interestingly, when are children able to translate into language those memories they had before they learned to speak?