Aram Bernardos

Catharine Rankin

Research Topic

Longterm Memory

Research Group

Characterizing the Molecular Interactions between Associative and Non-Associative Learning

Research Description

Historically, associative and non-associative learning have been studied in isolation; however, the phenomena of latent inhibition, pseudoconditioning, and habituation of reinforce effectiveness suggest that these seemingly distinct learning pathways may interact under certain conditions. It has been suggested that associative and nonassociative learning are not independent mechanisms. Thus, it is not surprising that stimuli involved in associative learning (i.e. Unconditioned Stimulus [US], Conditioned Stimulus [CS]) may also undergo non-associative learning. Likewise, a handful of studies have demonstrated that non-associative learning can be enhanced by association with a contextual cue. Intriguingly, it has also been shown in certain paradigms that reconsolidation blockade of the contextual cue can, in turn, disrupt the non-associative memory. However, this interaction has yet to be replicated, and the molecular events which underlie it are entirely unknown. The goal of my research is to use behavioural and cellular analyses to investigate the relationship between associative and non-associative forms of memory.

My hypothesis is that the presence of an associative context cue will alter how the non-associative memory is stored. To this end, a simple roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans) capable of context-enhanced habituation will be used. Because of its small, mapped-out nervous system, short lifespan, and readiness to genetic manipulation, this animal will greatly facilitate the identification of key molecules mediating the interaction between associative and non­associative learning.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I decided to come to UBC after spending weeks poring over the profiles of faculty in various programs across Canada. The types of questions being worked on in my lab fit my interests. Equally importantly, I had several interview/discussions with my supervisor beforehand in order to ensure that the culture in the lab matched what I was looking for.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I am interested in becoming a researcher in neuroscience. Completing a research-based graduate degree is the first step to figuring out if research is for you and, if so, developing the requisite skills in analysis, troubleshooting, and project direction. Besides, working night and day on questions you're interested in beats any other job I can think of!

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

There is no formula for success in grad school, and you will probably receive very little (external) validation for your hard work! It's completely up to you what and how much you get out of your program. Don't be afraid to ask for guidance and don't settle for vague answers.