Dr. Avi Mendelsohn
Sagol department of Neurobiology
Our memories color and shape the uniqueness of our identity. Memory, far from being a uniform entity, is composed of multiple neural systems, each supporting the acquisition and retention of a certain type of information or experience. Research in the Human Memory Lab investigates the behavioral and neural mechanisms of acquisition, formation, and long-term retention of memory, and how memory systems interact to shape human experience, behavior, and future decisions. A key effort of the lab is investigating episodic memory, referring to our ability to mentally time-travel to past events and to reconstruct them. Such memories are typically rich in sensory details, propagate in time, and often involve emotional content. We use behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to unveil neural processes that underlie the encoding, consolidation, and retrieval of real-life episodic memories. It is increasingly acknowledged that such memories are dynamic in nature, and as such can be edited or even erased following long-term consolidation. Tapping into this phenomenon, termed re-consolidation, offers unique opportunities both to explore the basic principles that underlie long-term memory mechanisms, and to develop clinical applications for rewriting unwanted memories (such as traumas), attenuating tormenting thoughts (obsessions), and relearning of maladaptive behaviors (such as addictions). In attempt to delineate the rules that govern successful episodic memory formation, we investigate how reinforcement learning principles interact with declarative memory systems. We are particularly interested in the effect that dopaminergic neural systems might have on the formation and long-term retention of hippocampal-dependent memories. To examine interactions among memory systems, we are developing fMRI analysis techniques that aim at illuminating interactions among predefined anatomical structures in the human brain, and how these interactions correspond to memory performance and age-related degenerative processes.