What is Memory Neuroscience at Vassar College?

Our memory is one of our most precious abilities. Memory guides adaptive decision-making, triggers complex emotion, and shapes our conscious experience. A principle endeavor in the field of neuroscience is understanding the nature of memory; how it is constructed, stored, modified, and retrieved in the brain. In the Memory Neuroscience lab at Vassar College, we study how memory is organized and retrieved in the brain at the level of molecules, structure, and function. A major emphasis in our lab is the study of aversive (fear) memory and the neurobiological underpinnings of fear memory generalization. Generalization describes the transfer of conditioned responding to stimuli that perceptually resemble, but do not exactly match, the original conditioned stimulus. Generalization is ubiquitous across species, however the neuronal mechanisms remain poorly understood. The study of generalization has high translational relevance considering that both anxiety-related disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are thought to be, at least in part, related to the overgeneralization of memory. To test questions related to fear memory generalization, we apply neuroscience tools for visualizing and manipulating memory processes in the brain.

The goal of our resarch program is to advance understanding of memory, with the ultimate goal of translating our work into treatments for disorders of learning and memory, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety-related disorders.

Our research is currently funded by the National Institue of Mental Health R15 MH127534-01.

See the exciting news on the acquisition of a state-of-the-art laser scanning confocal microscope to Vassar College from the National Science Foundation in 2023!

STELLARIS 8 FALCON FLIM Microscope | Products | Leica Microsystems

See our most recent paper (2022) in the journal Neuropharmacology¬†showing how alcohol exposure impacts fear extinction and prefrontal cortex plasticity with Vassar student co-authors Kate Lawson ’19, Miranda Scarlata ’19, Chris Cho ’22, Charlie Mangan ’22, David Petersen ’22, Hannah Thompson ’23, Sara Ehnstrom ’22, Lexi Mousley ’20, and Jessica Bezek ’19

See another recent paper (2021) in The Journal of Neuroscience Research showing a role for gut microbiome diversity in fear memory expression and anxiety-like behaviors with Vassar student co-authors Caro Geary ’19, Victoria Wilk ’20, Kate Barton ’20, Parvaneh Jefferson ’20, Tea Binder ’20, Claire Baker ’19, Achal Fernado-Peiris ’20, Lexi Mousley ’20, Stefano Rozental ’21, and Hannah Thompson ’22.

See one of our recent papers (2019) showing the impact of alcohol on traumatic fear memory with Vassar student co-authors Miranda Scarlata ’19, Daniel Lee ’19, Serena Lee ’18, Savannah Kadigian ’18, Abby Hiller ’18, Julian Dishart ’18, Gabby Mintz ’18, Ziwen Wang ’18, Gaby Coste ’20, Lexi Mousley ’20, Ivan Soler ’18, Kate Lawson ’19, Alex Ng ’19, and Jess Bezek ’19.

See one of our papers (2018) on the Neurobiology of Fear Memories with Vassar student co-authors Gabby Pollack ’17, Jessica Bezek ’19, Serena Lee ’18, Miranda Scarlata ’19 and Leah Weingast ’17.