Her major research interest continues to be 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.
Exercise and the Brain
Can exercise improve brain function? If so, how? These are the questions that underlie this arm of the research in the Suzuki lab. Our long term goal is to understand the neural mechanisms underlying these exercise-related changes in cognitive performance. What is the most effective exercise “prescription” that can enhances learning, memory and attention in school/university settings? Can this same prescription also be used to help improve cognitive functions in the wide range of different neurological disease states where cognition and memory are affected like Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease as well as normal human aging? Current studies in healthy adults as well as patients with traumatic brain injury and addiction are currently the focus of studies in the lab.
Memory and the Brain
Memory for the facts and events of our lives, referred to as “declarative” memory, defines us as individuals and helps construct our own personal histories. In the Suzuki lab, our goal is to understand how the brain allows us to lay down and retain new declarative memories. To do this, we examine the patterns of electrical activity in brain cells during the performance of various memory demanding tasks.
Our work focuses on a structure called the hippocampus, a part of the brain known to be essential for declarative memory. A major line of inquiry in the lab examines the dynamic changes that take place in the pattern of neural activity in hippocampal cells as we form brand new memories. Our lab was the first to identify dramatic changes in hippocampal activity as new associative memories (i.e., memory for the association between unrelated items) are formed (link to the Wirth et al., 2003 study here). We have also examined the patterns of neural activity that underlie memory for temporal order (i.e., what happened first, second and third), a critical component of event memory. We showed that the hippocampus provided the most prominent timing signal of the four related brain structures examined (Link to Naya and Suzuki Science paper).
Current studies focus on how the hippocampus and it’s neighboring brain areas interact with other brain regions including the prefrontal cortex, important for attention and working memory and the striatum, important for motor and reward functions.