UCLA LogoIt is known that the brain region amygdale is very important for learning about and storing the emotional aspects of experience. So any loss in this region can cause incapability in developing new memories with emotional content. A latest research commenced by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) claims that when one brain region is impaired, other regions can compensate for it.

In a troublesome situation, amygdale seems to act as an alarm triggering a cascade of biological systems that can guard the brain. It is known that the bed nuclei are a group of gray matter encircling the stria terminalis. In this area the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus is assumed to pass on information to the neurons. Seemingly these neurons communicate with various lower brain regions regulating stress responses and defensive behaviors. The relationship is apparently related to emotional learning. But further investigations declare this to be a general property of memory.

“Our findings show that when the amygdala is not available, another brain region called the bed nuclei can compensate for the loss of the amygdale. The bed nuclei are much slower at learning, and form memories only when the amygdala is not learning. However, when you do not have an amygdala, if you have an emotional experience, it is like neural plasticity (the memory-forming ability of brain cells) and the bed nuclei spring into action. Normally, it is as if the amygdala says, ‘I’m doing my job, so you shouldn’t learn.’ With the amygdala gone, the bed nuclei do not receive that signal and are freed to learn,” shared Michael Fanselow, a UCLA professor of psychology and a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute and the senior author.

The researchers elucidate that when a specific brain region vital for a function is lost, other regions of the brain can take over and perform similar tasks. Investigations revealing the method of promoting this compensation can possibly benefit patients with lost memory function because of brain damage, namely patients suffering from a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease. The current findings may open doors to novel medications and teaching regimens that influence plasticity in the regions capable of atoning for the damaged areas.

The research is published in the online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).