Monday, January 13, 2020

Neural activity may be sufficient for memory but normally requires synapse change; synapse change makes possible and organizes neural activity necessary for memory; molecular encoding is many orders of magnitude more efficient

The search for the engram: Should we look for plastic synapses or information-storing molecules? JesseJames Langille, Charles Randy Gallistel. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, January 13 2020, 107164.

•    New research calls into question the role of synapse change in memory.
•    Neural activity may be sufficient for memory but normally requires synapse change.
•    Synapse change makes possible and organizes neural activity necessary for memory.
•    Molecular encoding of Shannon information explains memory for quantitative facts.
•    Molecular encoding is many orders of magnitude more efficient.

Abstract: Karl Lashley began the search for the engram nearly seventy years ago. In the time since, much has been learned but divisions remain. In the contemporary neurobiology of learning and memory, two profoundly different conceptions contend: the associative/connectionist (A/C) conception and the computational/representational (C/R) conception. Both theories ground themselves in the belief that the mind is emergent from the properties and processes of a material brain. Where these theories differ is in their description of what the neurobiological substrate of memory is and where it resides in the brain. The A/C theory of memory emphasizes the need to distinguish memory cognition from the memory engram and postulates that memory cognition is an emergent property of patterned neural activity routed through engram circuits. In this model, learning re-organizes synapse association strengths to guide future neural activity. Importantly, the version of the A/C theory advocated for here contends that synaptic change is not symbolic and, despite normally being necessary, is not sufficient for memory cognition. Instead, synaptic change provides the capacity and a blueprint for reinstating symbolic patterns of neural activity. Unlike the A/C theory, which posits that memory emerges at the circuit level, the C/R conception suggests that memory manifests at the level of intracellular molecular structures. In C/R theory, these intracellular structures are information-conveying and have properties compatible with the view that brain computation utilizes a read/write memory, functionally similar to that in a computer. New research has energized both sides and highlighted the need for new discussion. Both theories, the key questions each theory has yet to resolve and several potential paths forward are presented here.

Check also Abraham WC, Jones OD, Glanzman DL. Is plasticity of synapses the mechanism of long-term memory storage?. NPJ Sci Learn. 2019;4:9. Jul 2 2019. doi:10.1038/s41539-019-0048-y
Abstract: It has been 70 years since Donald Hebb published his formalized theory of synaptic adaptation during learning. Hebb’s seminal work foreshadowed some of the great neuroscientific discoveries of the following decades, including the discovery of long-term potentiation and other lasting forms of synaptic plasticity, and more recently the residence of memories in synaptically connected neuronal assemblies. Our understanding of the processes underlying learning and memory has been dominated by the view that synapses are the principal site of information storage in the brain. This view has received substantial support from research in several model systems, with the vast majority of studies on the topic corroborating a role for synapses in memory storage. Yet, despite the neuroscience community’s best efforts, we are still without conclusive proof that memories reside at synapses. Furthermore, an increasing number of non-synaptic mechanisms have emerged that are also capable of acting as memory substrates. In this review, we address the key findings from the synaptic plasticity literature that make these phenomena such attractive memory mechanisms. We then turn our attention to evidence that questions the reliance of memory exclusively on changes at the synapse and attempt to integrate these opposing views.

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