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Scientists show brain regions work together to link a face with a name

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5 August 2011

BBSRC-funded researchers at the University of Bristol have discovered that three brain regions, all known to be involved in memory processing, work together to link a face to a name. Finding that these regions must all act together has important implications for understanding memory and might, in the long run, help in developing therapies for people with memory disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

The research, led by Dr Clea Warburton and Dr Gareth Barker in the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology and published in the Journal of Neuroscienceh, as investigated why we can recognise faces much better if we have extra clues as to where or indeed when we encountered them in the first place.

The study found that when we need to remember that a particular object, for example a face, occurred in a particular place, or at a particular time, multiple brain regions have to work together - not independently.

It has been known for some time that three brain regions appear to have specific roles in memory processing. The perirhinal cortex seems to be critical for our ability to recognise whether an individual object is novel or familiar, the hippocampus is important for recognising places and for navigation, while the medial prefrontal cortex is associated with higher brain functions.

These most recent studies, however, are the first to look at situations where these brain regions interact all together, rather than considering each one individually.

Dr Warburton said: "We are very excited to discover this important brain circuit. We're now studying how memory information is processed within it, in the hope we can then understand how our own 'internal library' system works."

The researchers investigated the neural basis of our ability to recognise different types of stimuli under different conditions. Of specific interest were two types of recognition memory: 'object-in-place recognition memory' (remembering where we put our keys), and 'temporal order recognition memory' (when we last had them).

Neither 'object-in-place' or 'temporal order recognition' memories could be formed if communication between the hippocampus and either the perirhinal cortex, or the medial prefrontal cortex, was broken. In other words, disconnecting the regions prevented the ability to remember both where objects had been, and in which order.

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information or to arrange an interview with Dr Warburton or Dr Barker contact: Caroline Clancy on tel: 0117 928 8086, mob: 07776 170238 or email: caroline.clancy@bristol.ac.uk.

About Bristol Neuroscience

Neuroscience is one of the key areas of research at the University of Bristol. Furthermore, the city of Bristol has one of the largest concentrations of researchers engaged in neuroscience in the UK, many of whom are internationally recognised. In 2003 Bristol Neuroscience (BN) was established to enable all neuroscientists working in Bristol - both within the University and its partner hospitals across the city - to make full use of all available resources and expertise.

BN runs numerous activities to encourage the dissemination of ideas, to create opportunities for interdisciplinary research, and to facilitate the pursuit of neuroscience to the highest possible standard. For further information on BN please see  www.bris.ac.uk/neuroscience or contact Dr Anne Cooke, b-n@bristol.ac.uk.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences and the largest single public funder of agriculture and food-related research.

Sponsored by Government, BBSRC’s budget for 2011-12 is around £445M which it is investing in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.