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Multiple memory systems: the power of interactions

Robert J. McDonald

Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge . Lethbridge , Alberta , Canada

Recent empirical and theoretical work suggests that the organization of memory in the mammalian brain and the neural systems that mediate them play a pivotal role in our thoughts, emotions, choices, actions and even our personalities. According to this view, these complex neural circuits not only contain some kind of a record of our past but these systems also influence our thoughts and behaviour. By logical extension, this hypothesis suggests that the neural systems mediating memory processes have a pivotal role in both normal and abnormal manifestations of behaviour. One theory guiding my research program is that memory function in the mammalian brain is organized into a group of neural systems mediating different memory functions. Within this organization, thought and behaviour arise from cooperative and competitive interactions between these neural systems and with other brain areas. Despite the potential explanatory power of this view, there are significant challenges that lie ahead. One problem is that there is a general lack of information about the nature of interactions between learning and memory systems and the neural circuits involved. Another problem is a lack of understanding of the role of plasticity mechanisms in neural systems implicated in the acquisition and storage of associations underlying these interactions. Addressing some of these challenges will be the basis of my talk.