How do we remember some of the daily events in our life, and why do we forget others? How do we recall the route that we have to travel to get from home to work, even when faced with a roadblock? How do we learn from our experiences and use this knowledge when we make decisions?

The Kloosterman lab aims to answer these questions by studying neural circuits and systems, unravelling the fundamental mechanisms by which the mammalian brain represents, stores and processes information. Understanding how animals use memories to guide their behavior helps us map the basic operations of memory systems in the brain. It also provides us with clues on where these systems fail in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy or different sleep disorders.

A code for space

We are interested in the functional and structural organization of brain circuits that support the storage, expression and use of memories during behavior. In our research we use rodent models and focus on brain areas in the medial temporal lobe (e.g. hippocampus and entorhinal cortex) that are known to be critical for spatial and episodic memory.

As animals learn novel associations or perform a memory-guided task, we observe the communication between large numbers of neurons using arrays of wires (‘tetrodes’) or specially designed neural probes. This allows us to study how populations represent the sensory world and to analyze the expression and use of memories during wakefulness or sleep.

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Decoding memories

Combining the monitoring of neural activity with selective (opto)genetic or pharmacological perturbations we can tease apart the role of specific brain areas or cell types in memory processing.

Once the spatial correlates of populations of hippocampal neurons has been established, then at any time in the future we can decode an animal’s location solely on the observed activity of these neurons. What’s more, by reading out (‘decoding’) memories in real-time we may selectively alter and control the effect of these memories during behavior.

We are presently studying the role of this hippocampal memory replay in planning behavior, evaluating past performance and memory consolidation.