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Dombeck Lab Research Featured in USA Today, People, Among Others

October 26, 2018

New research from Jim Heys in the Dombeck Lab used high-resolution imaging and virtual reality to show that the medial entorhinal cortex contains a previously unknown representation of elapsed time when animals are waiting. This brain region is involved in forming memories of specific personal experiences (i.e. episodic memories), like the memory one might have of their first day at college at Northwestern. Every episodic memory is a bit different, but there are two central features to all episodic memories: space and time. These memories occur in a particular place and are structured in time. Previous research on the medial entorhinal cortex mostly focused on its formation of spatial memories, so it was unclear if or how it supports temporal aspects of episodic memories. To answer these questions, the researchers developed a “Door-Stop” task for mice that required the mice to learn and report a 6 second time interval while waiting at a door in a virtual reality environment. While mice were performing this timing task, advanced imaging techniques were used to record the activity of neurons in medial entorhinal cortex. The data revealed that neurons in medial entorhinal cortex were active at regular time periods (like a clock) while the mice were waiting at the door. This research furthers our understanding of how the brain may encode time and how the brain may use this information to help form temporal aspects of episodic memories. 

Dr. Heys' study has been mentioned in the Northwestern NowPeople Magazine, US News and World Report, USA Today, CBS3 Philadelphia, and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

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