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科学美国人60秒: 在鸟类身上植入记忆揭示了学习是如何发生的

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Implanting Memories in Birds Reveals How Learning Happens

在鸟类身上植入记忆揭示了学习是如何发生的

Babies are constantly surrounded by human language, always listening and processing. Eventually they put sounds together to produce a "daddy," or a "mama." But what is still elusive to neuroscientists is exactly how the brain works to put it all together.To begin to figure it out, a team of researchers turned to a frequent stand-in for human infants when it comes to language learning: the song-learning zebra finch.

婴儿经常被人类的语言包围,总是在倾听和处理。最后,他们把不同的声音组合在一起,就成了“爸爸”或“妈妈”。但对神经科学家来说,大脑究竟是如何将这些信息整合在一起的,仍然是个谜。为了弄清这个问题,一组研究人员在语言学习方面经常求助于人类婴儿的替身:会唱歌的斑胸草雀。

"Well, we've known for about 70 years or so that songbirds learn their song by first forming a memory of their father's song, or another adult's song. And then they use that memory in order to guide their song learning."Neuroscientist Todd Roberts from the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas.

“嗯,我们已经知道大约70年了,鸣禽通过首先形成对它们父亲或另一个成年人的歌声的记忆来学习它们的歌声。然后他们用这些记忆来指导他们的歌曲学习。德克萨斯德克萨斯大学西南医学中心的神经学家托德·罗伯茨说。

“It's been a long-term goal of the field to try to figure out how, or where in the brain this memory is. This form of learning, this type of imitative learning that birds do, is very similar to the type of learning that we engage in on a regular basis, particularly when we're young, we use this type of learning to guide our speech learning."

“这是该领域的一个长期目标,试图弄清楚这些记忆是如何或在大脑中的什么位置。这种学习方式,这种鸟类模仿的学习方式,与我们平时的学习方式非常相似,尤其是在我们年轻的时候,我们用这种学习方式来指导我们的语言学习。”

Roberts and his team had a hunch that the interface between sensory areas and motor areas in the brain was critical for this process, and they zeroed in on a group of brain cells called the NIf.

"In order to really prove that we were on the right track, and that we could identify these circuits, we thought that maybe we could go in and see if we could implant a false memory."

罗伯茨和他的团队有一种直觉,大脑中感觉区域和运动区域之间的接口在这个过程中至关重要,他们将注意力集中在一组被称为NIf的脑细胞上。“为了真正证明我们是在正确的轨道上,我们可以识别这些回路,我们想也许我们可以进去看看我们是否可以植入一个错误的记忆。”

To do it, the researchers used a technique called optogenetics. First, they used a virus to cause the neurons in the birds' NIf to become sensitive to light. Then, using a tiny electrode as a flashlight, they activated the neurons. The length of each pulse of light corresponded with the amount of time the neurons would fire. And the birds' brains interpreted that time period as the length of each note.

为此,研究人员使用了一种名为光遗传学的技术。首先,他们使用一种病毒使鸟类NIf中的神经元对光线变得敏感。然后,用一个小电极作为手电筒,他们激活了神经元。每个光脉冲的长度与神经元放电的时间相对应。鸟类的大脑将这段时间解释为每个音符的长度。

Soon enough, the birds began to practice the notes they had learned, even though they never really heard the sounds in the first place. The songs that these birds began to sing wouldn't win them any prizes. But amazingly, the birds produced them in the correct social situations. The researchers say this is the first time anybody has pinpointed a part of the brain necessary for generating the sorts of memories needed to mimic sounds. The study was in the journal Science. [Wenchan Zhao et al. Inception of Memories that Guide Local Learning in the Songbird.]

很快,这些鸟开始练习它们学过的音符,尽管它们一开始并没有真正听到这些声音。这些鸟开始唱的歌不会为它们赢得任何奖励。但令人惊讶的是,这些鸟在正确的社会环境中产生了它们。研究人员表示,这是第一次有人准确地指出了大脑中产生模仿声音所需记忆的部分。这项研究发表在《科学》杂志上。

"This line of research is going to help us start to identify where in the brain we encode memories of pertinent social experiences that we use to guide learning. And we know that there are several neurodevelopmental disorders in people that have really profound effects on this type of learning."

“这条研究路线将帮助我们开始识别我们在大脑中对相关社会经验的记忆进行编码的位置,这些记忆是我们用来指导学习的。”我们知道,人类有几种神经发育障碍,它们对这种学习方式有着深远的影响。”

Implanting Memories in Birds Reveals How Learning Happens

Babies are constantly surrounded by human language, always listening and processing. Eventually they put sounds together to produce a "daddy," or a "mama." But what is still elusive to neuroscientists is exactly how the brain works to put it all together.To begin to figure it out, a team of researchers turned to a frequent stand-in for human infants when it comes to language learning: the song-learning zebra finch.

"Well, we've known for about 70 years or so that songbirds learn their song by first forming a memory of their father's song, or another adult's song. And then they use that memory in order to guide their song learning."Neuroscientist Todd Roberts from the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas.

“It's been a long-term goal of the field to try to figure out how, or where in the brain this memory is. This form of learning, this type of imitative learning that birds do, is very similar to the type of learning that we engage in on a regular basis, particularly when we're young, we use this type of learning to guide our speech learning."

Roberts and his team had a hunch that the interface between sensory areas and motor areas in the brain was critical for this process, and they zeroed in on a group of brain cells called the NIf.

"In order to really prove that we were on the right track, and that we could identify these circuits, we thought that maybe we could go in and see if we could implant a false memory."

To do it, the researchers used a technique called optogenetics. First, they used a virus to cause the neurons in the birds' NIf to become sensitive to light. Then, using a tiny electrode as a flashlight, they activated the neurons. The length of each pulse of light corresponded with the amount of time the neurons would fire. And the birds' brains interpreted that time period as the length of each note.

Soon enough, the birds began to practice the notes they had learned, even though they never really heard the sounds in the first place. The songs that these birds began to sing wouldn't win them any prizes. But amazingly, the birds produced them in the correct social situations. The researchers say this is the first time anybody has pinpointed a part of the brain necessary for generating the sorts of memories needed to mimic sounds. The study was in the journal Science.

"This line of research is going to help us start to identify where in the brain we encode memories of pertinent social experiences that we use to guide learning. And we know that there are several neurodevelopmental disorders in people that have really profound effects on this type of learning."


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