Join Dr. Natalie Tronson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, as she describes the way immune system changes during illness can interfere with memory formation, and how this affects the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and dementia.
Memory is critical for the ability to function in the world. By storing and retrieving information about the relationships between places, events, and outcomes, our memories allow us to adjust our behavior to act in accordance with the current situation. We use our memory to navigate around our environment, efficiently finding our way to work and back home; to avoid dangerous places and things, to find food, and to recognize families, friends and colleagues. This central role of memory in our everyday lives means that disorders of memory are particularly impactful. Deficits in memory are one of the first and most notable symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, because they severely impact the ability for individuals to function independently in the world. Excessively strong memories are also problematic. For example, persistent memories of trauma contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to individuals avoiding places that trigger retrieval of those memory. But how do memory processes go bad? One thing we know about memory systems is that many different factors in our lives can change how well memory is stored. Stress can make some memories stronger, and some memories weaker. Illness also changes how well we can learn and remember information. This flexibility in how memory systems work also means that they are vulnerable to disruption by stress and sickness.
Natalie Tronson is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. After her undergraduate degree from the University of New South Wales, in Australia, Dr. Tronson moved to the United States and completed her PhD at Yale University, followed by a post-doctoral position at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on how the brain stores and retrieves memory, how memory is changed during stress and illness, and sex differences in these processes. Dr. Tronson’s research combines behavioral approaches and molecular analyses in an animal model of memory, with the goal of identifying new ways to prevent and treat memory disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder and dementia.