© 2016 Olsen Lab

We are interested in defining the brain systems involved in human memory.

Our research is directed toward understanding the representational nature and neural organization of human memories. We use high-resolution structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), eye movement monitoring, and amnesia patient studies to investigate memory formation, retention, and retrieval. Listed below are several of the lab’s unique areas of focus in research and trainee development.

Structural characterization of the MTL (and beyond) in memory impaired populations

My recent work examined the structural changes that occur in older adults who are exhibiting early signs of cognitive decline. This work indicated that a specific region of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) is one of the earliest brain regions affected by Alzheimer’s disease and that MTL structural changes can precede subjective memory complaints in community-dwelling older adults. Future work in these preclinical individuals, as well as in cases of developmental amnesia, will be focused on characterizing the grey and white matter structures that serve as the hippocampus’s direct inputs and outputs (i.e. the extended hippocampal system).

Short-delay memory maintenance

I have proposed that two underlying processes performed by the hippocampus, binding and comparison, contribute to a variety of different cognitive functions, including short-delay memory performance. In graduate school I published the first study to relate memory maintenance activity in the human medial temporal lobe (MTL) to short-delay memory performance. Moreover, this work demonstrated two potential mechanisms by which distinct subregions of the MTL might contribute to short-delay memory. In another study, I further demonstrated that particular neural oscillations were associated with the formation and short-term memory maintenance of visuospatial memory representations. This work indicated a role for the theta rhythm in linking information presented across space and time. Our lab will continue to investigate oscillatory signatures of memory formation and how different neural oscillations contribute to MTL-PFC communication.

Photo Credit- Simone Jones 2016

Investigating the relationship between eye-movements and memory

Our research program is one of the few to explore the relationship between eye-movements and memory. I have investigated the relationship between changes in eye-movements over repeated viewings and memory performance and have explored the role of the hippocampus in this indirect measure of memory. In this work, individuals with hippocampal damage still made fewer fixations to repeated items, which showed that the hippocampus is not necessary for these eye-movement memory effects. Our work continues to investigate how eye-sampling patterns contribute to item memory, memory binding and memory maintenance.   

Inclusion and diversity promotion

As an independent scientist I strive to serve as a positive role model for women and minorities. I am a mentor for female students at the University of Toronto through the Scientista Foundation, which provides advice and support for women in science and engineering. I have also participated in scientific outreach activities that serve to engage female high-school students in science. Our lab strives to provide a training environment that is inclusive, embraces diversity and encourages women and other minorities to pursue their career aspirations.

RESEARCH