A Role for Dopamine During Rest and Sleep in Memory Consolidation

2021 Scientific Innovations Award
Ilana Witten, Ph.D.
Princeton University

One of the most fundamental functions of the nervous system is to form memories of salient experiences. What neural mechanisms enables some experience to turn into permanent memories, while the vast majority are forgotten? There is increased appreciation that offline replay of neural activity after an experience may be important for creating a lasting memory. But how and why are certain experiences “tagged” for offline replay and memory consolidation, while others are not? Dr. Witten and her lab will examine the role of bursts of dopamine release during neural replay are critical for long-term more memory storage. This hypothesis is motivated by previous work, which has established through targeted pharmacology that dopamine is necessary for memory consolidation. However, where in the brain dopamine is required, and when and how it affects neural replay, remain unclear. This work is significant because it addresses fundamental questions related to forming permanent memories, which could have clinical relevance for memory disorders, while also addressing a major gap in the dopamine field: despite well-established contributions of dopamine to online processes like reinforcement learning and movement, midbrain dopamine neurons are highly active during offline periods—yet the role of offline domain release remains largely unexplored.

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