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Learning and behaviour


Julia Araujo
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Julia Araujo

Hello dear colleagues!

I took the initiative to begin a new topic for us all to discuss.

Inspired by Dr. Bin Yin's introduction at our meeting posts, I would like to begin by sharing my personal experience with the subject.

Back in High School, I wrote a revision about mental stimulation against cognitive decline. It has, originally, been inspired by a local perspective upon the learning and behaviour of population aged more than 60 years old. (In fact, teaching my grandma basic Mathematics had more to do with it.)

With that in mind, I was able to provide a review that assured the correlation between mental exercises - such as varied types of puzzles - with a better prospect of life quality for those who belonged to the older percentage of world's population.

Nonetheless, shall my first post bring us to a general (broader) aspect of this wonderful and fascinating topic for research, discussion and much more. In terms of it, both behaving (in a certain way) and learning, contemplate intrinsic mental stimulations. Whenever pursuing bits of studying; motivating your neurons to follow a new path and think differently; researching; posting for our dear Community Leaders, and learning how to survive the modern world (just kidding): it all has to do with behaviour.

In an overall, being motivated by Neuroscience is what got us all here and it's a behaviour of nurturing a community that will lead us to even more learning experiences.

From the academical to the literary aspects of this topic, what do you all have to share?

  

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WoW this is fantastic! I never expected someone would follow the keyword in my post... thank you Julia for initiating the topic!

I first came across the topic of learning and behaviour when I, as a junior college student, started my scientific journey with Dr. Guosong Liu, who came to Tsinghua University in Beijing from MIT, studying the effects of brain magnesium elevation via a synthetic compound on changes in learning and behaviour in animal models. That was also when I, first-time-ever in my life, spent thousands of hours in the lab with those cute animals and witnessed the magic happened in their learning and behaviour following changes in their brain. "The ultimate goal of science is to discover the beauty of the world" Dr. Liu's words deeply resonated with my heart, "For that goal to achieve, you may have to sacrifice many things - but that's worthwhile. " 

I spent three years of research life in Dr. Liu's lab and when I had to leave for my next journey at Duke, I simply could not help crying... on my... I could see that beauty coming to me...

References:

Slutsky, I., Abumaria, N., Wu, L. J., Huang, C., Zhang, L., Li, B., ... & Liu, G. (2010). Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium. Neuron, 65(2), 165-177.

Abumaria, N., Yin, B., Zhang, L., Li, X. Y., Chen, T., Descalzi, G., ... & Liu, G. (2011). Effects of elevation of brain magnesium on fear conditioning, fear extinction, and synaptic plasticity in the infralimbic prefrontal cortex and lateral amygdala. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(42), 14871-14881.

 

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Julia Araujo

It was really nice hearing more about your story, Dr. Bin Yin!😃

I’ve also took the opportunity to read your research and now, I have some questions for us all to follow up the conversation topic, if you don't mind. I hope our colleagues join us, as well.

Firstly, upon analysing how crucial it is to conceive the process within memory formation for your studies, I wonder if you could, kindly, endorse us on how - if somehow - conditioned fear memories would diverge from memories constructed amidst other circumstances in the context of your research?

Secondly, as merging into a bit of controversy relating animal research into Neuroscience, which would be the subtopic (within your study) to become better suited with a virtual environment - therefore, last dependent with animals - to pursue new researches for the future?

Lastly, considering the success of your publication, what would be the next steps in regards of your own research development?

Congratulations on your amazing work! 👏

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It was really nice too to have such great conversations with excellent minds like you, Julia. I would like to say all your three questions are brilliant! Let me try to answer them one by one, and yes please join this conversation if anything interests you, fellow colleagues.

First question: You have touched a critical point, that is, are conditioned fear memories anything different from other forms of memories constructed amidst other circumstances? We have to be careful here, because at that time we thought freezing represents fear but since LeDoux proposed a two-system framework of fear in recent years1, we have recognized that freezing may simply represent automatic defensive response but not necessarily subjective fear2 (our recent work in review demonstrates what may represent subject fear in rodent models – please wait for the update). Nevertheless, it is okay for us to recognize that elevating brain magnesium leads to enhancement of higher-order control of automatic defensive behavior – just not necessarily fear – via differentially manipulating synaptic plasticity among higher (e.g., prefrontal cortex) and lower (e.g., amygdala) brain regions. So, are the memories for how to respond adaptively diverge from other forms of memory constructed amidst other circumstances in the context of our research? We think they should be similar as long as the particular forms of memories are mediated by the interaction between higher and lower brain regions (aka the interaction among two systems). They might be different if the particular forms of memories are only mediated by a single system, for which we had to investigate how elevation of brain magnesium leads to changes in plasticity in that particular brain network (it is not what we aim to do now though as I had left Dr. Liu’s lab in 2009 for the graduate program at Duke).

Second question: In my opinion, the controversies relating animal research to neuroscience are rooted in the neglect of the importance of delicate behavioral work before the analysis of brain, as one Neuron paper3 suggests, which may render many preclinical research unfruitful. Using the same example above, if neuroscientists had a misconception regarding which behavior may indicate subjective fear and which behavior may not, then no matter how delicate the analysis of brain is, the risk would be high that there would be controversies there. Now return to your question, what can we study that are last dependent on animal work and better suited with a virtual environment? We have to answer that anything fundamental in theory should probably start from animal work (or a very strong form of AI network within the totally immersive virtual environment that can fully substitute animal studies – however, the construction of such AI may still benefit from real-world animal work), and once the hypothesis were confirmed in animal work, we can then move on to validation in human participants (or better with an AI substitute) possibly with the help of totally immersive virtual environments. We have to be careful here and would not want to progress too fast before ethical issues are fully considered and prepared with caution.

Third question: Because we are just starting out as an independent group, we are eager to see how a serious of our recent work go through the peer review process, depending on which we can then decide where to go in the near term. In the longer term, we want to establish a research center which can systematically study the principles of learning and behavior and also translate the study outcomes to meet the clinical and societal needs.

References:

1.  LeDoux, J.E., and Pine, D.S. (2016). Using Neuroscience to Help Understand Fear and Anxiety: A Two-System Framework. American Journal of Psychiatry 173, 1083–1093. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16030353.

2.   Mobbs, D., Adolphs, R., Fanselow, M.S., Barrett, L.F., LeDoux, J.E., Ressler, K., and Tye, K.M. (2019). Viewpoints: Approaches to defining and investigating fear. Nature Neuroscience 22, 1205–1216. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-019-0456-6.

3.  Krakauer, J.W., Ghazanfar, A.A., Gomez-Marin, A., MacIver, M.A., and Poeppel, D. (2017). Neuroscience needs behavior: correcting a reductionist bias. Neuron 93, 480–490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2016.12.041.

Edited by Bin Yin
Format adjusted for references.
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