White matter fiber architecture of the brain. Credit: Human Connectome Project.
Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have found how even brief exposure to sudden sounds or mild trauma can form permanent, long-term brain connections, or memories, in a specific region of the brain. Moreover, the research team, working with rats, says it was able to chemically stimulate those biological pathways in the locus coeruleus—the area of the brain best known for releasing the “fight or flight” hormone noradrenaline—to heighten and improve the animals’ hearing.
The NYU team says their new study, summarized in the cover article in the journal Nature Neuroscience online Aug. 24, is believed to be the first to explore an apparent connection between hearing and memory formation in the locus coeruleus as well as the first to successfully improve hearing in rats by manipulating the centrally located brain region whose neural network projects throughout the body.
“Our study gives us deeper insight into the functions of the locus coeruleus as a powerful amplifier in the brain, controlling how and where the brain stores and transforms sudden, traumatizing sounds and events into memories,” says senior study investigator and neuroscientist Robert C. Froemke, PhD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine. “Our findings, if confirmed by future studies in animals and people, should help us better understand how to improve hearing and memory abilities in those suffering from hearing loss or possibly even Alzheimer’s disease, as well as how to…