October 3, 2017
The hippocampus is the area of the brain associated with learning, memory and spatial directions. The tiny, seahorse-shaped formation of gray matter is nestled under the cerebral cortex and is one of the first places to show damage in Alzheimer’s disease. Now, scientists have made a breakthrough in discovering a previously unknown function of this important component of the brain.
The hippocampus has long been studied in humans and animals to understand its role in degenerative brain diseases, but scientists have had trouble understanding how it interacts with other regions of the brain—an area of study known as functional connectivity. This new research shows that the hippocampus can connect with distant regions in the cerebral cortex to monitor sensory processes like vision, hearing and touch. The study found that the hippocampus acts as the “heart” of the brain, kicking off other activities across the brain.
In the animal study, scientists at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Hong Kong mimicked the activity that occurs in the hippocampus during deep sleep using a low-frequency light. They found that the stimulation causes a ripple effect across the brain, suggesting the hippocampus has a hand in much more brain activity than previously thought.
Scientists hope these findings will enhance our understanding of the complicated connections between different parts of the brain, eventually leading to a comprehension of how diseases that start in the hippocampus unfold.
This study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Read the full write-up here.