Skip to main content

Unravelling how GENEtic VAriation in attentional control contributes to working memory capacity

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GENEVA (Unravelling how GENEtic VAriation in attentional control contributes to working memory capacity)

Reporting period: 2016-07-01 to 2018-06-30

Our ability to temporarily store information in mind, known as working memory, is central to many cognitive abilities and thus essential for optimal performance in various tasks of everyday life. Despite its importance, our working memory is limited in its capacity, that is, in how much information it can hold at a given moment. Therefore, to further understand working memory it is imperative to delineate the factors that influence short-term remembering. Research in the last decade has shown that working memory performance is constrained by attentional control, the ability to select information from the environment. Nevertheless, the underlying processes by which attention constrains working memory are not very well understood. In this project, the fellow aimed to investigate the biological pathways underpinning the interplay between attentional control and working memory capacity. More specifically, the objective of the project was to examine whether specific alleles in two dopamine-related genes, DAT1 and COMT, are associated with attentional encoding and maintenance, which in turn influence working memory capacity. To achieve the objectives, a combination of experimental techniques, such as molecular genetics, electroencephalography/event-related potentials (EEG/ERPs), and behavioural measures were employed.
To achieve the objectives of the project, 200 healthy young adults participated in the study. Participants were volunteers recruited from the community through advertisements. Participants’ attention and memory skills were assessed with a computerised experimental task, designed and programmed by the fellow, while their neural activity was recorded via Electroencephalography (EEG). Participants also donated blood samples, from which we isolated their genomic DNA and measured its concentration using a spectrophotometer. Subsequently, we genotyped the participants for specific genetic variants in the DAT1 and COMT genes. For this purpose, we designed specific oligonucleotide sequences (primers) and performed a PCR reaction for the targeted genetic variants of both genes. PCR reactions were evaluated by agarose gel electrophoresis and genotypic analysis was carried out by Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) and sequencing-based methods. EEG analysis was performed to generate ERP components, time-locked to events of interest. Finally, we carried out statistical analyses to investigate whether specific alleles of DAT1 and COMT genes are associated with encoding and maintenance of information and working memory capacity. Results so far have suggested a risk allele for DAT1 and low working memory capacity. Results have been presented at international conferences and two manuscripts are currently in preparation for publication.

Exploitation, dissemination, and public engagement:
Shimi, A., Fanis, P., Neocleous, V., Newbury D., Phylactou, L., & Papacostas, S. (2018). DAT1 gene modulates individual differences in visual working memory capacity. Poster presented at the 16th European Workshop on Imagery and Cognition (EWIC), Padova.
Shimi, A., Fanis, P., Neocleous, V., Newbury D., Phylactou, L., & Papacostas, S. (2018). DAT1 gene modulates individual differences in visual working memory capacity. Poster presented at the 59th the Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, New Orleans.
Shimi, A. (2018). Attention and Memory limitations. Talk to high school students as a Marie Curie Ambassador, Nicosia, Cyprus.
Shimi, A. (2016). The limits of human working memory. Presentation to public audience at the Researcher’s Night, Nicosia, Cyprus.
Shimi, A. (2016). Opportunities and obstacles of young scientists in the early stages of career development. Marie Curie Ambassador at the Researcher’s Night, Nicosia, Cyprus.
Working memory deficits are a predominant symptom in many mental and neurological diseases that fall within Europe’s health priorities, constituting the research topic an important one for the European society. By shedding light on the biological pathways associated with working memory limitations in healthy individuals, the project advances our understanding of working memory which can in turn open new means to study and further understand neurological disease associated with working memory difficulties, and to develop more effective interventions.
dna4.jpg