Florey researchers to explore cells in an unknown region of the brain

A mystery region of the brain associated with learning and memory is set to reveal its secrets, in a new Florey Institute project which has received Discovery Project funding from the Australian Research Council.

Described as one of the least studied regions of the brain, the anatomy and function of cells in the zona incerta will be at the centre of the project. The Florey co-leads Dr Christina Perry and Professor Andrew Lawrence were the first to identify a specific population of cells in this region that when activated, inhibit expression of memory and acquisition of new learning.

“Learning and memory are fundamental to human and animal behaviour. Mapping how these cells in the zona incerta connect to the rest of the brain and how these connections are recruited during learning and memory will advance our knowledge of how behaviour may be regulated in the nervous system,” said Dr Perry.

“The zona incerta could regulate numerous non-motor functions thanks to its widespread connections throughout the brain, but there’s still so much that remains unknown about how it operates,” said Dr Perry.

The team has received over $519,000 to undertake the project.

“The funding from the Australian Research Council will allow us to investigate the connectivity of these cells, and then test their function experimentally,” said Professor Lawrence.

“This is an incredibly exciting project because it will allow us to expand the scientific community’s knowledge of the neural circuitry that controls learning and how the brain integrates information and produces a behavioural output.”

The Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects scheme aims to expand the knowledge base and research capacity in Australia, and support research that will provide economic, commercial, environmental, social or cultural benefits for Australia.