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Yerkes Researchers Discover Specific Pattern of Neural Activity Critical For Successful Memory Formation

November 18, 2009

Media Contacts

Emily Rios, 404-727-7732, erios@emory.edu; Lisa Newbern, 404-727-7709, lisa.newbern@emory.edu

Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, have identified a specific pattern of neural activity that is critical for successful memory formation. This study, available in the October issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, examined neural activity in the hippocampus of monkeys while they performed a visual recognition memory task that has been shown to be impaired in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that often progresses to Alzheimer’s disease. The study showed enhanced neuronal synchrony, i.e., correlations in the precise timing of activity of multiple neurons, predicted better memory encoding. Researchers hope a better understanding of this pattern of neural activity can lead to treatments for humans with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers led by Elizabeth Buffalo, PhD, found stronger neuronal synchrony in the monkey hippocampus during picture encoding predicted greater subsequent recognition memory performance. “By using the same behavioral task in monkeys as in humans, this study suggests memory impairment in human patients may be related to impaired neuronal synchrony,” said Buffalo.

Researchers plan to follow up on these findings by examining the impact of enhanced synchrony on neurons that could be involved in memory consolidation. “We are also investigating more about the behavioral conditions that lead to enhanced synchrony. What determines whether the brain in is the right mode to promote neuronal synchrony and therefore better memory encoding?” continued Buffalo.

For nearly eight decades, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, has been dedicated to conducting essential basic science and translational research to advance scientific understanding and to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates. Today, the center, as one of only eight National-Institutes of Health-funded national primate research centers, provides leadership, training and resources to foster scientific creativity, collaboration and discoveries. Yerkes-based research is grounded in scientific integrity, expert knowledge, respect for colleagues, an open exchange of ideas and compassionate quality animal care.

Within the fields of neuroscience and infectious diseases, the center’s research programs are seeking ways to: develop vaccines for infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease; treat cocaine addiction; interpret brain activity through imaging; increase understanding of progressive illnesses, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s; unlock the secrets of memory; determine behavioral effects of hormone replacement therapy; and advance knowledge about the links between biology and behavior.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include the Emory University School of Medicine, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, and Rollins School of Public Health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. Emory Healthcare includes: The Emory Clinic, Emory-Children's Center, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, Wesley Woods Center, and Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.5 billion budget, 17,600 employees, 2,500 full-time and 1,500 affiliated faculty, 4,700 students and trainees, and a $5.7 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

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