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Memory engrams discovered in the hypothalamus

29 May 2019

Prof. Dr. Mazahir T. Hasan is the head of the Memory Circuits Laboratory at ACHUCARRO and the first and lead author of the study.

Until now there was an almost dogmatic assumption in this field of research that came to place in the areas of the brain known as the hippocampus and cerebral cortex were the memory store. With this study, it has been shown that the hypothalamus, which is one of the oldest areas of our brain, in evolutionary terms, plays a fundamental role in memory circuits.

In the study just published in Neuron, the international team of researchers led by Prof. Mazahir T. Hasan takes an interdisciplinary approach in which they have developed a novel genetic tool to selectively mark neurons, concluding that “engrams ” or “traces” of memory can also originate and be preserved in the hypothalamus, and for this, they based their research on oxytocin, a neuropeptide substance that controls various emotional responses, including fear, and to which a type of neuron is sensitive.

This revolutionary discovery invites us to explore the possible existing engrams in different brain regions, both in the primitive ones and in the most modern ones on the genetic scale. If we are able to understand the circuits involved in fear anatomically and functionally, it would be possible to design new therapeutic strategies to treat brain pathologies, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress, linked to processes in which fear plays a fundamental role.

Hasan et al., “A Fear Memory Engram and Its Plasticity in the Hypothalamic Oxytocin System”. Neuron, 2019 Jul 3;103(1):133-146.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.04.029.