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Tracing memory formation in a behaving animal: analysis of learning-induced morpho-functional plasticity along the bee’s olfactory system

Project description

Stimulating honeybees to understand memory formation

The formation and extinction of memories is one of the most exciting fields of study, with numerous related experiments carried out in laboratories. But the neuronal processes responsible for the creation of memories, or their plasticity, need to be researched in vivo; if these processes are to be understood, they must be studied in their natural networks. This, however, is not an easy task. The EU-funded MEM-ENTO project has taken on the challenge and will study animal memory formation in acting honeybees. The project will conduct long-time imaging experiments and monitor the honeybee’s olfactory system, to describe functional and biological changes caused by associative learning, and functional dynamics of a stimulus. MEM-ENTO will help scientists understand memory formation in behaving animals at the neural level.


Memory formation and extinction are fascinating aspects of brain functions. Observation of ex vivo and in vitro experiments provided a framework for understanding associative memory-related plasticity. However, memories are generated via local neuronal interactions within the context of their global networks, and understanding their formation requires in vivo studies in naturalistic conditions, which remain technically challenging. Here, I will use a functional calcium imaging approach to investigate memory formation and extinction in behaving honeybees. I will adopt the honeybee as a model system because of the accumulated knowledge on associative learning, the availability of a behavioural read-out for both appetitive and aversive memory formation, and its robustness, which allows for long-lasting imaging experiments. I will focus on its olfactory system because of the optical accessibility, and its analogy with the vertebrate one. Previous works have established the methods for honeybee brain imaging analysis in vivo during appetitive and aversive conditioning. Within this project, I will perform long-term imaging experiments in behaving animals, while monitoring the process of short and long-term memory formation and extinction in the three main neuropils of the olfactory system: the antennal lobe (the primary odour processing centre), the mushroom bodies (possibly dedicated to odour recognition), and the lateral horn (involved in odour valence evaluation). My specific goals are (1) characterizing the morphological and functional changes induced by associative learning throughout these neuropils, (2) highlighting the functional dynamics of a stimulus representation during short and long-term memory formation and extinction, and (3) comparing the memory engram of positive and negative associations. This project will provide important insight on the neural correlates of memory formation and extinction in a behaving animal.


Net EU contribution
€ 196 707,84
75794 Paris

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Ile-de-France Ile-de-France Paris
Activity type
Research Organisations
Total cost
€ 196 707,84