Contextual-Fear and Theta-Rhythm
The brain’s defensive system detects danger signals and organises physiological and behavioural responses, preparing the individual to flight or flee. A defensive (fear) memory is formed by classical conditioning to distinct cues, contexts, or a combination of a cue in a context, for example, an angry dog barking loudly behind ones back in a narrow alley next to a grocery store. Binding the danger cues with their specific context make memories flexible and adaptive. Poorly encoded context leads to unprecise memories, related to maladaptive behaviour and psychopathology. Interactions of neurons generate rhythmic activity, which synchronises information processing in different brain regions, thus helping to form the associations between aversive information and its context.
In this project, we will develop an experimental task to alter rhythmic brain activity non-invasively and causally modulate the quality of contextual fear memory. If successful, the technique may open new accessible, cheap, and non-invasive ways to modify a context-fear memory, with potential clinical application.
The project helps establish collaboration between labs at Osnabrück University and University of Glasgow, whose expertise is in fear memory and episodic memory, respectively. The project allows both labs to gain deeper understanding about the role of rhythmic brain activity across different memory systems.
Clouter, A., Shapiro, K. L., & Hanslmayr, S. (2017). Theta Phase Synchronization Is the Glue that Binds Human Associative Memory. Current Biology, 27(20), 3143-3148.e6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.09.001
Plog, E., Antov, M. I., Bierwirth, P., Keil, A., & Stockhorst, U. (2022). Phase-Synchronized Stimulus Presentation Augments Contingency Knowledge and Affective Evaluation in a Fear-Conditioning Task. eNeuro, 9(1), ENEURO.0538-20.2021. https://doi.org/10.1523/ENEURO.0538-20.2021
“Synchronization of neural activity across different regions via oscillations is emerging as a fundamental computational mechanism in the brain supporting perception, attention, action, language, and memory. I’m excited that with our project, we will bring together two sub-disciplines in neuroscience to investigate the causal role of the theta rhythm in the process of associating a context with an aversive event.”
“This project will bring together the strength in neural oscillations research from our lab at the University of Glasgow and the strength in neurophysiological mechanisms in fear memory research from the Experimental and Biological Psychology lab at Osnabrück University. Such knowledge transfer will advance the research field in neural oscillations and information processing, and build connections between Lower Saxony and Scotland.”
Dr Danying Wang
Dr Wang is currently a Postdoctoral research fellow working in Professor Simon Hanslmayr’s lab at the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi), University of Glasgow. She is mainly interested in the causal role of brain oscillations in episodic memory formation. She completed her MSc in Cognitive and Decision Sciences (2010) and a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (2015) at University College London (UCL). She is also an honorary member of School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, under the supervision of Professor Kim Shapiro.
Dr Martin I. Antov
Martin is a postdoctoral researcher at the Experimental Psychology and Biopsychology Lab of Ursula Stockhorst at the Institute of Psychology, University of Osnabrück. He is interested in mechanisms of associative Learning and Memory. He studied at the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) where he received his Diploma (MSc) in Psychology. He received his PhD at the University of Osnabrück examining the effects of stress and female sex hormones on classical conditioning of fear and safety responses in humans. Currently, he is interested in the role of brain oscillations and cortical contributions to fear and safety learning.