"Sensory stimuli, like odors, sound and colors, acquire positive or negative value through their association with rewards or punishments, a process called “emotional learning”. Although we know a great deal about how the brain analyses sensory information, we know relatively little about how sensory representations become linked with values and where such emotional memory is stored. Recently, we have demonstrated that higher order sensory cortices are necessary for the long-term storage of aversive memories. We hypothesized that such cortices represent the link between the neural sites that elaborate the physical features of sensory stimuli and the areas elaborating affective information. The present study is aimed at elucidating this issue.
First, we will investigate if sensory cortices are mainly involved in the storage of aversive memories or alternatively if they participate also to the encoding of hedonic memories, i.e. if the brain normally uses higher order sensory cortices in order to allocate emotional positive as well negative memories. Then, we will address the crucial issue of whether and how these areas encode the emotional meaning that sensory stimuli acquire with the experience. Finally, we will study the functional dialogue that may occur during emotional memory storage/retrieval between sensory cortices and subcortical nuclei.
To tackle these topics, we will employ a multidisciplinary approach made of the combination of behavioural, electrophysiological, immunohistochemical and confocal analyses. In our aim, the results obtained will provide new and important information about the brain circuitry that stores affective memories. In particular, they could led to the idea that higher-level sensory cortices encode the emotional value acquired by sensory stimuli and thus through their connections with other cortical and subcortical centres they enable identical sensory stimuli to trigger different emotional responses depending on past emotional experience"
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