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Researchers Pinpoint Brain Region Where Contextual Memories Are Made

Rat study may shed light on Alzheimer's in humans, scientists say

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TUESDAY, Aug. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A region of the brain that plays a key role in contextual memories has been pinpointed in rats by researchers.

Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders can affect contextual memory.

Contextual memories help you recall your location when an event occurred. This can range from remembering where you were at the time of a significant incident -- such as 9/11 or the JFK assassination -- to everyday activities such as recalling where you parked your car.

It was known that a specific network of brain regions is important for contextual memory, but the importance of different parts of the network was unclear.

Dartmouth College researchers conducted experiments with rats and concluded that a brain region called the retrosplenial cortex is crucial to contextual memory, according to the study in the Aug. 12 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

"By providing new insight into the function of this part of the brain, our work will also have implications for understanding the basis for illnesses that impact contextual memory, such as Alzheimer's disease," study author David Bucci said in a Dartmouth news release.

"In fact, recent studies have shown that the retrosplenial cortex is one of the first brain areas that is damaged in persons with Alzheimer's disease," he added.

The hippocampus is another key part of the brain involved in contextual memory. But two recent studies found that the hippocampus is not active or needed for creating the initial associations that underlie contextual memory, according to the researchers.

Scientists note that research with animals often fails to produce similar results in humans.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about Alzheimer's disease.

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