Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

06. Memory and Change

Timothy J. DeVoogd, Psychology/Neurobiology and Behavior, and his research group discovered—in a feeding study of black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapilla)—the role that cannabinoids play in memory and the ability to handle change. Cannabinoids are natural brain chemicals similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The researchers examined the function of a cannabinoid receptor called CB1-R in the bird’s hippocampus, the same area of the human brain that stores memories. In this food-storage study, the researchers trained the birds to use certain food sites and then changed the sites. The researchers observed that memory in the cannabinoid-blocked birds improved, but they did not handle change well. Cannabinoid-signaling birds, however, had the flexibility to deal with the change. Since marijuana is known to impair the formation of new memories in humans, an anti-cannabinoid drug may improve the retention of a new memory, but the loss of the ability to change the memory may occur. This leads the researchers to believe that cannabinoid sensitivity in the brain provides a balance between accuracy and flexibility in memory.

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