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Scripps Florida Scientist Awarded $2.5 Million to Study Inner Workings of Memory Formation

JUPITER, FL, December 5, 2012 – A scientist from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has been awarded approximately $2.5 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to better define how the brain organizes different types of memories among its neurons.

Ronald Davis, PhD, a professor and chair of the Department of Neuroscience at TSRI, is the principal investigator for the new study.

The five-year continuation of an earlier grant takes as its research model Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly. The fruit fly is widely used in these studies because humans and flies share many of the same genes involved in learning and memory.

“Since nearly every neuropsychiatric disorder affects memory formation, these new studies will aid in understanding memory formation in humans—in the normal brain as well as in the diseased brain,” Davis said.

The research focuses on the how the brain organizes olfactory or scent memories learned in association with reward conditioning compared to negative conditioning.

The new study has a number of objectives, Davis said, including defining the exact nature of cellular memory traces, the mechanisms for their formation, their duration, and the neurons in which they form.

Aiding current memory research are advances in functional imaging of neural activity in the fly brain, allowing scientists for the first time to see olfactory memory traces as they form—a literal and figurative window into the cellular and systems logic of memory formation. “Combined with Drosophila’s advanced molecular biology and genetics,” Davis said, “this imaging technology provides an unprecedented opportunity to dissect the brain’s algorithm that underlies Pavlovian conditioning.”

The number of the grant is 2R01NS052351-06A1.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. Over the past decades, TSRI has developed a lengthy track record of major contributions to science and health, including laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. The institute employs about 3,000 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including three Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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