Investing more than 900,000 euros, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the US-American National Institute of Health are funding a close research cooperation between Prof Dr Sen Cheng from the Mercator Research Group “Structure of Memory” at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Prof Dr Kamran Diba from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Together, both researchers and their three collaborators will investigate “Neural network mechanisms of sequence generation in the hippocampus”. The three-year project begins in December 2015.
Objective: shed light upon the neuronal foundations of memory
The hippocampus, a brain structure in the shape of a seahorse, plays a vital role for memory, especially for episodic memory. It is particularly relevant for remembering personal experiences. In order to understand the underlying neuronal mechanisms in the hippocampus, the activity patterns of individual neurons have to be understood. In the hippocampus of rodents, neurons are only activated if the animal is located in certain positions. These place cells are reactivated in different temporal sequences, even during sleep. It is thought that those temporal sequences are necessary for consolidating memory contents. In the course of their joint project, Sen Cheng and Kamran Diba want to investigate which mechanisms generate these neuronal sequences.
Interlocking theoretical and experimental approach
The collaboration between the two researchers is interdisciplinary. In his capacity as theoretical neuroscientists, Prof Sen Cheng develops computer models of the hippocampus. Prof Kamran Diba, on the other hand, conducts experimental work, thus gathering information on brain activity. A close collaboration between theory and experiment was a critical requirement for the funding. Researchers from Milwaukee and Bochum will maintain an ongoing exchange. This will especially benefit the junior researchers involved in the project who will thus gain international research experience.