Dr. James L. McGaugh draws capacity audience to Irvine Barclay Theatre for Inaugural McGaugh-Gerard Lecture on Learning and Memory

Chancellor Howard Gillman, Professor James McGaugh, Professor Michael Yassa

“From the day UCI opened its doors almost exactly 53 years ago to the day, neuroscience and the study of the mind have been among our towering academic strengths. This is due in large part to the contribution and life’s work of James L. McGaugh. Sir Isaac Newton famously said ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. In the field of memory creation, retention and recall, James McGaugh is a giant.'” – Chancellor Howard Gilman, in his introduction of UCI Distinguished Professor Emeritus James L. McGaugh. “It is difficult to imagine what UCI would be like today if Jim McGaugh had decided, back in 1964 to stay at the University of Oregon.”

On the 53rd anniversary of the inauguration of the UCI campus, Professor McGaugh delivered the 1st annual McGaugh-Gerard Lecture on Learning and Memory to a capacity audience at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. In his lecture, McGaugh describes a UCI campus of barren lands peppered with bison and full of promise.  In his lecture, titled “Memory: Pathway to our Future”, he states “Although we all think of memory as a past, the reason that we have memory is it provides information that we can use for behaving in the future. Memory is about the future.” Bridging past and future, McGaugh offered memories of his work and insights into their applications to neuropsychiatric disorders such as PTSD, ending his talk with a hopeful note about what the future may bring.

This new lecture series was made possible by  the McGaugh-Gerard Endowment established by Dr. James L. McGaugh and the family trust of the late Dr. Ralph W. Gerard.

We extend our sincere gratitude to Dr. McGaugh and the Gerard family trust for their philanthropy in establishing this important lectureship at the CNLM to enrich the lives of future generations.

Click here to watch the lecture



Research Update: New study by CNLM Director Michael Yassa suggests your 10 minute walk may be doing more than you think!

A new study published today in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) reports that just 10 minutes of light exercise is sufficient to enhance memory and change connections in the brain. This study is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Michael Yassa, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior in the School of Biological Sciences and Director of the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and colleagues at the University of Tsukuba including Kazuya Suwabe, Kyeongho Byun and Professor Hideaki Soya.

The study pairs mild exercise with memory tests and brain imaging and finds that engaging in a 10-minute mild exercise session results in immediate improved performance on a memory discrimination task and increased functional connectivity between the hippocampus (a part of the brain known to be important for memory) and the cortex, compared to rest.

Though we have known that exercise improves memory and enhances hippocampus plasticity, this study sheds light on the intensity and duration of exercise necessary to produce these effects. In addition, the results help scientists to understand the neural mechanisms that may be responsible for the enhanced memory.

Professor Yassa and colleagues are expanding this work to older adults and those with early signs of dementia and hopes future studies will be able to answer questions related to how long these effects last and if this type of exercise is sufficient to reverse memory loss in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Click here to read the PNAS article.

Click here to read the UC Irvine Press Release.

Dr. Michael Yassa is Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He is Director of the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the UC Irvine Brian Initiative. Contact Dr. Yassa by email here.


The Guardian (9/24/18) – 10 minutes of exercise a day improves memory

UCI Founding Professor and world renowned neuroscientist Dr. James L. McGaugh to give inaugural McGaugh-Gerard Lecture

McGaugh-Gerard Lecture aims to encourage public education, scientific discourse and exposure to world-class science.

IRVINE, CA— On October 8, 2018, the UC Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) will welcome community members to the Irvine Barclay Theatre for the 1stAnnual McGaugh-Gerard Lecture on Learning and Memory. UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman will introduce the speaker, UC Irvine Founding Faculty and world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. James L. McGaugh. As Founding Director of the CNLM and the Founding Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, McGaugh has made seminal contributions to the field of neuroscience and to the University. During his 54 years at UC Irvine, he has served as Dean of Biological Sciences, Vice Chancellor and Executive Vice Chancellor/Provost. McGaugh is internationally recognized for his studies of drug and hormone influences on memory as well as his more recent work on Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. He has been featured on 60 Minutes, PBS Nova, and Scientific American, has authored several notable books, and published well over 500 peer-reviewed publications. The lecture is the first of a free-to-attend public lecture series hosted by the CNLM aiming to engage the public in dialogue about findings from brain science.

The McGaugh-Gerard lectures are made possible by the McGaugh-Gerard Endowment that was established by Dr. James L. McGaugh and the family trust of the late Dr. Ralph W. Gerard. 

Click here for media advisory.


Neurobiological Correlates of Aging Memory | Dr. Carol Barnes, Ph.D.

Carol Barnes, Ph.D. is a Regents’ Professor in the Departments of Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience, the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging, Director of the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute and Director of the Division of Neural Systems, Memory & Aging at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Dr. Barnes is past-president of the 42,000 member Society for Neuroscience, an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters.

Introduction by Sara Burke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Florida, Gainsville

This lecture was presented on April 18, 2018 at the International Conference on Learning and Memory (LEARNMEM2018)  in Huntington Beach, CA.

More information about LEARNMEM2018 can be found at http://learnmem2018.org


How thinking about memory has changed in the past 35 years | Dr. Lynn Nadel, Ph.D.

Dr. Lynn Nadel, Ph.D. is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Arizona. His work focuses on the functions of the hippocampus in memory and spatial cognition. Together with John O’Keefe, Dr. Nadel coauthored the influential 1978 book The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map. In this lecture given on April 18, 2018 at the International Conference on Learning and Memory in Huntington Beach, CA, Dr. Nadel provides a historical perspective on the field of learning and memory.

For more information about the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory, please click here.

Historical Perspectives on Brain and Memory | Dr. James L. McGaugh

Dr. James L. McGaugh, Founding Director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) at UC Irvine gives the introductory lecture at the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory (LEARNMEM2018). Held in April 2018 in celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the center, LEARNMEM2018 brought 1000 learning and memory scientists from around the world to Huntington Beach, CA to share their research, gain insight on their work, build new collaborations and advance our understanding of the brain. Over the next few weeks we will share all of the featured lectures in the order in which they were presented at the conference. The conference began with this 8am lecture by Dr. James L. McGaugh: Historical Perspectives on Brain and Memory. We hope you enjoy!

For more information about the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory, please click here.

Training the world’s youngest brain scientists

Young students embrace science at UCI’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

Story by Cathy Lawhon

Neuroscientists are accustomed to defining problems, developing experiments, testing hypotheses and analyzing and defending their findings. But the three research teams appearing recently before a review board from the Brain Explorer Academy were shaking in their lab coats.  Penetrating questions and thoughtful critiques were thrown at them by a panel of 8- to 14-year-olds, and it was clear these future scientists had done their homework.

The Brain Festival and Live Review was a feature of the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory (LEARNMEM™2018), which celebrated the 35thanniversary of UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. More than 950 professors, researchers, post docs and graduate students from around the world attended the five-day event, which provided a forum for presenting neuroscience breakthroughs and work in progress and assessing the future of the field. If the Brain Explorer Academy kids are any indication, the future looks bright.

“These students meet Saturday mornings to learn about the brain,” says Manuella Yassa, CNLM director of outreach and education. “They’ve studied brain anatomy and function. They’re learned about animal research, ethics, evolution, and careers in science. They worked closely with our science mentors for several months and have built strong relationships with them.”

Academy members were chosen mostly from Orange County schools on the basis of recommendations from teachers and principals and the students’ own short essays about why they wanted to be involved.  A balanced mix across genders, age, and schools was also ensured.

The program is free to the young explorers and is supported by the CNLM through foundation grants and private philanthropy.

“We’re putting a face to science,” says Mitch Farrell, a second year doctoral student in neurobiology and one of the science mentors.

“We hope it will lead to broader community engagement with science,” adds fellow mentor Noora Siddiqui, a first year doctoral student in the Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology Program.

Academy participants also learn about what happens once scientists finish their experiments and make discoveries.

“There is no point to doing science if you don’t communicate it to the world,” Yassa says. “The explorers learn about the review process by actually critiquing scientific papers. It took them a while to understand that their comments would be incorporated into the final article. The hope is that they become savvy science consumers.”

At the conference, it was clear that this approach worked.  Accomplished neuroscientists mingled with more than 600 parents and their children as the young brain explorers aided them in handling sheep brains and human brains (with the requisite protective gloves) and participating in a mind-bending mirror drawing exercise.

Following the open house, students immediately got to work, evaluating presentations for possible publication in Frontiers for Young Minds, the non-profit open-access journal for youths age 8-15. The journal’s founder, UC Berkeley’s neuroscience professor Robert Knight, explained that all articles must be peer-reviewed and can be aimed at under-12 or over-12 audiences.  It’s a useful exercise for scientists, Knight says, because, “You have to truly understand your research in order to write about it in a way a 5thgrader will grasp it.”

Jessica Lin and Vlad Senatorov from UC Berkeley presented their paper, Stress: As We Age, the Shield that Protects the Brain Gets Leaky.  Their findings showed that the blood-brain barrier becomes inefficient with age, allowing a protein called albumin to escape and incorrectly bind with receptors in the brain. This causes neurons to misfire and results in cognitive decline. A drug that inhibits that interaction could help, they said. The student panel got it, but had a few suggestions.

“Would there be any side-effects to such a drug?” asked Arkhil, 12, who wants to be a rocket scientist. The panel also asked for a better explanatory graphic. In the end, the paper was recommended for publication with some revisions.

Before the review session began, Tejal Kavkatt, 10, and Shazneen Shaik, 9, said they were most looking forward to the UCI team of Jim McGaugh and Navid Ghaffari who were presenting on People Who Rarely Forget.  Tejal called the title “a good hook” that accurately describes the study of people with highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, who remember almost every detail of their lives.

“My knees are trembling,” said the veteran McGaugh, taking the podium after another team had endured a particularly grueling review calling for major revision.

Ghaffari presented findings from 18 years of research, explaining that HSAMs have a widened pathway between two regions of the brain that seems to allow storage and recall of an unusually large bank of autobiographical memories.  The panel was intrigued.

“Why is this important to study if so few people have it?” (The team has verified only 100 HSAM subjects.)

“Look at it this way,” Ghaffari said. “If your car breaks down, you can’t fix it until you know how it works. HSAM is the key to solving how memory works.”

“How do you get HSAM, or are you born with it?”

“We think people are born with it,” Ghaffari answered, “but most don’t realize they have it until they’re in their teens. That’s when they seem to realize they’re different from other people.”

McGaugh and Ghaffari breathed a bit easier when, in the end, the paper was accepted with few revisions.

“Thank you for participating in this,” McGaugh told the children. “And thank you to your families. This is a wonderful program to help children engage in science and it will mean a much better future for us all.”

Yassa, agreed, saying a second session of Brain Explorer Academy will launch in fall 2018 with ambitions to add a summer program in 2019.

For this group of brain explorers though, the conference marked the grand finale of their first neuroscience experience.  Except for one last thing, said Tejal: “After this, we get a pizza party.”

About the Author
Cathy Lawhon served as senior director of media relations at University of California, Irvine, sharing the research and teaching success of the campus with journalists worldwide, before retiring in 2017. Her prior experience included 30 years as a reporter and editor in the local media market.

Click here to learn more about the Brain Explorer Academy

Click here to contact Manuella Yassa, Director of the Brain Explorer Academy

The Brain Explorer Academy and all outreach activities of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory are free to participants and are supported by contributions from our community. If you are interested in learning more about how to support the Brain Explorer Academy and similar programs at the CNLM, please click here.

The Live Review at the 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory was a partnership between the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory‘s Brain Explorer Academy and the Frontiers for Young Minds Journal. To learn more about this scientific open access journal for kids please click here.


Laughs, Tears and Data from Dr. Miguel Nicolelis’ Distinguished Lecture

One week ago we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Miguel Nicolelis at UC Irvine to deliver the 24th Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory. During his talk, Dr. Nicolelis took us on a beautiful journey of his career. He described a 30-year long odyssey in fundamental neuroscience. When he finally took things to the clinic, the results were nothing short of astonishing. A young man who had been paralyzed for more than 9 years could finally walk again, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Nicolelis and his colleagues. And he was not alone. Advances in brain-machine interfaces are now helping countless like him walk again.

Dr. Nicolelis is a staunch advocate for building strong foundations in basic and fundamental neuroscience before moving to clinical translation. He shared with me his concerns that the current funding climate pressures scientists to move prematurely to translation and drains them of creativity. Without adequate support for fundamental science, the engine of discovery and innovation, we cannot successfully advance to therapeutic applications. Dr. Nicolelis’ work is a great example of how patience, perseverance, and dedication to fundamental science pays off!

If you missed the lecture, you can still watch it on the livestream page. It will also be available on our YouTube channel in the next few days.

We look forward to seeing you next year for the 25th Distinguished Lecture on Brain, Learning and Memory.

Michael A. Yassa, Ph.D.
Director, Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

Join us for a Film Screening of My Love Affair with the Brain

The 2018 International Conference on Learning and Memory, hosted by the UC Irvine CNLM, will feature a FREE screening of the award-winning documentary “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond“. Dr. Diamond passed away in July 2017 at the age of 90, after a career that transformed neuroscience… several times over.

The screening will be followed by a special panel discussion with the filmmakers, Cathy Ryan and Gary Weimberg, hosted by Drs. Wendy Suzuki and Bob Knight, who were featured in the documentary. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Click here to register.


A documentary film by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan, Luna Productions

How can you not fall in love with a woman who carries around a preserved human brain inside a giant flowery hat box? Meet Dr. Marian Diamond, renowned academic and research scientist, and prepare to be smitten.

Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg’s film follows this remarkable woman over a 5-year period and introduces the viewer to both her many scientific accomplishments and the warm, funny, and thoroughly charming woman herself, who describes her 60-year career researching the human brain as “pure joy.”

As one of the founders of modern neuroscience, it’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. Diamond changed science, and society at large in dramatic ways over the course of her career. Her groundbreaking work is all the more remarkable because it began during an era when so few women entered science at all. Shouted at from the back of the conference hall by noteworthy male academics as she presented her research, and disparaged in the scientific journals of a more conservative era, Dr. Diamond simply did the work and followed where her curiosity led her, bringing about a paradigm shift (or two) in the process.

The film has won numerous awards in film festivals as well as in the scientific arena including the prestigious AAAS Kavli Gold Award in Science Journalism in November 2017.

The documentary is narrated by UCLA trained neuroscientist and TV star Dr. Mayim Bialik (Blossom, Big Bang Theory), and includes interviews with Drs. Wendy Suzuki (NYU) and Bob Knight (UC Berkeley). It also features interviews with Arne Scheibel, Marian’s late husband of 35 years and rare footage from Marian’s early life and career as a scientist.

To watch a video sneak peek, click here.

Special Seminar with Dr. Wendy Suzuki


Adventures in Brain Plasticity

Monday February 5, 2018
Herklotz Conference Center
(300 Qureshey Research Lab – Building 506 on campus map)

Brain plasticity, defined as the brain’s ability to learn and change in response to the environment, is a fundamental theme in neuroscience research today and has been the major theme of Suzuki’s research career.  In this talk, Suzuki will describe the range of experimental approaches and model systems she has used to study various aspects of brain plasticity starting with her studies of the brain areas important for one of the most common forms of brain plasticity, new memory formation.  Using non-human primates as a model system, Suzuki’s studies helped define the neuroanatomy, physiology and function of the brain areas in the medial temporal lobe critical for long-term memory for facts and events, often called declarative or relational memory.  She has brought this basic research perspective to her most recent studies where she is asking the practical questions 1) how might we use physical aerobic exercise to improve or enhance a wide range of cognitive functions including memory, mood/affect, attention and even aspects of creativity in people and 2) what are the neurochemical and neurophysiological pathways that underlie these plastic changes?  Here she will describe her most recent studies that have examined the effects of either a single exercise session (acute exercise) or long-term increases in aerobic activity on college students, low-fit adults or high fit adults and patients with traumatic brain injury on a range of cognitive functions and EEG.


Dr. Wendy A. Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Her major research interest are in the area of brain plasticity. She is best known for her extensive work studying areas in the brain critical for our ability to form and retain new long-term memories. More recently her work has focused on understanding how aerobic exercise can be used to improve learning, memory and higher cognitive abilities in humans.

This special seminar is sponsored by the Exercise Medicine and Sport Sciences Initiative, and the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.