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Learning and Memory


Malgaroli A.



Course Objectives

  • To introduce Neuronal Communication and Synaptic Plasticity, i.e. the Neuroscience of Learning and Memory, introducing the functional, anatomical and circuital organization of key centres, emphasizing what is known about the cellular and molecular mechanisms which underlie short and long-term changes in brain circuits.
  • To introduce all forms of Learning and Memory in the mammalian nervous system, i.e. the Psychology of Learning and Memory, describing the underlying anatomical circuits, learning theories, behavioural characteristics and phenotypes.
  • To expose students to the field of modern neuroscience and cognitive psychology with special emphasis on novel methodologies, which are used to study and modulate the memory process in humans and animal models.
  • To highlight this field of psychology which has many important applications in many different areas including experimental lab work, psychotherapy, clinical psychology, business, marketing, publicity and education.

Course Description

Memory is a behavioural change induced by experience. In organisms endowed with a nervous system, this fundamental ability arises from the fact that some subtypes of synapses are associative machines. We learn every day, in multiple contexts and these brain synapses integrate and store all this information bound together. Words, ideas, images, music, old and more recent events, positive and negative experiences, our emotional responses etc. are associated and stored with one another. This is a complex associative process, it depends on those synapses which are associative, and strongly influences many different aspects of our life including our beliefs, our perceptions, our emotions, our decisions. Therefore, memory is much more pervasive than we might think. The purpose of this course is to give students a solid, comprehensive and thorough introduction to how information can be encoded, stored, and retrieved.
Since not all memories are the same, and since the different types function in different ways, this description must include the different types of learning processes, their characteristics, the location of brain centers involved in both short and long-term storage, the effect of modulatory phenomena such as emotion and aging, etc.. It will also be important to address why and how specific brain circuits can learn and remember, discussing in details what is known today about the cellular and molecular mechanisms of these processes. At this point we will be able to introduce the type of changes occurring in the brain when a synaptic memory is formed and stored, including the genetic and epigenetic determinants. Using a multi-level comparative approach, we will integrate insights from basic research with cognitive theory to understand the basic connections between the workings of synaptic circuits and human behaviour. Since there are too many different forms of memory, we will concentrate our analysis on just a few of them, those that involve brain areas such as the Hippocampus, the Amygdala, the Cerebellum, the Basal Ganglia, Prefrontal Cortex, etc. Furthermore, because many important questions in this field still remain to be answered, some time will be dedicated to discuss the most recent experimental techniques that are or could be used in the future to solve the many unsolved issues in this important field of psychology.

Learning methods
The course will still be organized with standard format class lectures, as well as prompts, homework, question times and class discussions on recent findings & research papers.

Evaluation procedures
The assessment will be continuous as well as end-of-term.
The CONTINUOUS ASSESSMENT is based on class attendance, participation in the introductory class recitation, class discussions, prompts, homework, question times. All this will be  graded along the semester.

  • Class recitations: at the beginning of every lecture a brief class recitation will be run by randomly selected students (15 min max). This will be guided by questions that I will pose with the idea to prompt reflection about important aspects presented in the previous lecture.
    Over the term, there will be 12 of these recitations (one for each lecture but the first one).
  • Class rehearsals: during lectures, I will pose to the entire class questions on topics that are designed to prompt reflection on the nature or science of memory.
  • Class discussions and question times
  • Homeworks: along the course, short readings, analysis of recent papers, specific set of questions and other material to read will be provided. Students will be required to study this material and/or address these questions. A small group of selected students will be asked to present to the class their opinion on this material the following lecture.

The end of term assessment will consist of a MCQs test. After passing the MCQs test with sufficient score, you will be admitted to the oral exam where the test and other course topics will be discussed. Both are obligatory and will be organized at the end of the course.
The Final Score will be graded according to the following scheme (Percentages of the max grade 10):
Continuous assessment: 30 %
End of term assessment (final exam): written test + oral exam: 70 %

Required materials

  • Mark A. Gluck; Eduardo Mercado; Catherine E. Myers Learning and Memory From Brain to Behavior.
    Fourth Edition 2020 Additional Books
  • E. R. Kandel, J.H.Schwartz e T.M. Jessel,  Principles of neural science, McGrawHill, 2012 (fifth 
  • Michael S. Gazzaniga & George R. Mangun, The Cognitive Neurosciences, MIT Press, 2014 (fifth 
  • Gordon M. Shepherd, The Synaptic Organization of the Brain, Oxford University Press, 2003 (fifth edition)
  • Gordon Shepherd & Sten Grillner, Handbook of Brain Microcircuits Oxford University Press, (1st 
  • Scott D. Slotnick Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory, Cambridge Fundamentals of Neuroscience in Psychology, 1st Edition 2018
  • Larry R. Squire, Memory and Brain, Oxford Press, 1987