All group members are interested in attention and memory as they are expressed in human behaviour. Many of us study the basic processes involved in the formation, retention, and retrieval of memories at various time scales and in different groups of individuals. Regarding short-term memory (or “working memory”), we investigate why working memory capacity is limited, and why it is reduced in healthy ageing. At longer time scales, we are interested in how complex information is represented along the neural processing stream, how it is transformed into stable, persistent long-term memories, and the factors that consistently boost remembering or cause forgetting.
Many group members translate this basic research into applied and clinical areas. These areas include studying memory changes in the elderly, how basic research might help to prevent intrusive memories and flashbacks in post-traumatic stress disorders, and the effect that physical exercise has on memory functioning.
To understand the whole-brain dynamics of object recognition, attentional modulations, memory formation, maintenance and retrieval, we apply functional neuroimaging using two different MRI setups. The University of Birmingham has its own neuroimaging centre on Campus (Centre for Human Brain Health), housing a research-dedicated 3T Philips Achieva MRI scanner, an Elekta Neuromag MEG system, as well as various brain stimulation and sleep laboratories. Through the 'Birmingham-Nottingham Strategic Collaboration Fund', we have access to a high-field 7T Philips Achieva MRI scanner located at the University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre.
We often utilise simultaneous EEG-fMRI to directly relate the BOLD signal to co-occurring electrophysiological signals. In our analyses, we put a strong emphasis on capturing the representational content of our memories via multivariate pattern analyses (MVPA).
Memory relies on rapid interactions within distributed networks, which synchronize and desynchronize in a highly dynamic manner. Brain oscillations are a ubiquitous phenomenon in the brain and reflect these interactions with high temporal resolution. Oscillations are therefore a key approach that we use in order to unravel the mysteries behind memory and attention.
We record brain oscillations using a range of electrophysiological methods, such as non-invasive EEG (32-128 channels), combined EEG-fMRI (Birmingham University Imaging Centre), and MEG. To understand these dynamics on the local level, i.e. in small cell assemblies, we also record local field potentials and single-unit firing invasively in epileptic patients undergoing pre-surgical evaluation (in collaboration with the local epilepsy unit at the QEHB in Birmingham, but also in Erlangen and Bonn in Germany). Finally, we also employ brain stimulation techniques like repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) in order to induce brain oscillations and test for a causal role in cognition.
We are interested broadly in the question of how memories are built and maintained in such a way that they are both long-lasting and accurate. We investigate these questions in quite simple rat memory settings. Therefore, there is a focus on memories that, while basic and unconscious in nature, have an important impact upon behaviour. These include pavlovian (both fear and rewarding) and instrumental memories, as well as object location learning.
We combine these memory paradigms with behavioural, pharmacological and cellular manipulations in order to target the processes of memory consolidation, retrieval, reconsolidation and extinction. Moreover, wecan target specific neural loci, both through intracerebral infusions and ex vivo analyses (immunohistochemistry, western blots, FACS).