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SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

Department of Physiology and Pharmacology


Janina Ferbinteanu

Janina Ferbinteanu, PhD

Research Assistant Professor

Physiology and Pharmacology

Tel: (718) 270-1796


Brain neurophysiological processes that allow encoding, storage, and utilization of information in order to generate organized behavior

The neural activity underlying memory guided behavior is best understood by performing neurophysiological recordings in distributed brain networks during behavioral paradigms with well characterized memory demands and neural substrate.

How the brain stores information for subsequent use towards adaptive behavior is one of the fundamental problems of neuroscience. The current paradigm in memory research, originating in Tolman’s idea that there is more than one type of learning, postulates that the architecture of memory is modular, different types of memories resulting from the independent and parallel activity of separate memory systems. The fundamental evidence for the modularity of memory is constituted by dissociation type of data, in which lesions in restricted brain areas result in specific patterns of memory impairments. Because the neural basis of memory comprises widely distributed brain areas, intuition suggests that modularity of memory would be predetermined. Work in my lab suggests however that the distinctiveness among memory systems is modulated by past experience. Specifically, the selective impairments in spatial and procedural memories following lesions of the hippocampus or dorso-lateral striatum, respectively, easily reproduced when rats learn either a spatial navigation or a stimulus-response task, are not present if the animals acquire concomitantly both types of memories. Unit recordings show that the hippocampal neurons form a temporally extended representation of these memory-driven experiences which encodes the transition between the two behavioral strategies. Work on further understanding this phenomenon is now undergoing, but one of the fascinating implications of these finding is that the neural basis of memory-guided behavior is plastic to an extent we never envisioned so far. Surprisingly, core structures of two of the best understood memory systems can become involved in behaviors incongruous with the type of representations they form. How may such an extreme plasticity of memory modules be implemented at neural level?

Reconfiguration of neural networks is difficult to accommodate within the current memory system paradigm, but is at home in the field of network neuroscience, which investigates the brain by using a mathematical construct called graph. A (macroscopic scale) neural graph is a collection of brain areas or nodes connected through edges. Depending upon whether the edges correspond to anatomical or functional connections, brain networks are either structural or functional; regardless, as is the case with their real-life counterparts as well, the architecture of these networks is modular. In the brain-as-a-graph world, a module is defined as a cluster of brain areas highly interconnected (anatomically or functionally) with each other but isolated from other areas. Experimental work shows that during the performance of various types of tasks, including memory-based ones, the brain networks reconfigure. Applied to the architecture of memory, it would mean that core memory areas such as hippocampus and dorso-lateral striatum can temporarily couple functionally in response to demands from the environment.

Looking at memory from this perspective, which is the approach I take in my research, provides a framework for current and future work focused on understanding how memories of different types interact and are ultimately integrated. To do so, experiments in my lab combine advanced behavioral design with unit recordings in multiple brain areas from freely moving rats, a line of investigation that continues and expands the tradition of memory research established at SUNY Downstate by Jim Rank, Steve Fox, John Kubie, late Bob Muller, Todd Sacktor, Bob Wong and others. Collaborative work with Juan Marcos Alarcon and Todd Sacktor offers the opportunity of complementing this work studies at the microcircuits and molecular-cellular levels in the brains of our trained animals.


Service Functions

Ad hoc grant reviewer for NIH, reviewer for various scientific journals

  • O’Reilly, K. C., Alarcon, J. M., and Ferbinteanu, J. (2014). Relative contributions of CA3 and medial entorhinal cortex to memory in rats. Front. Behav. Neurosci, 8, 292.
  • Ferbinteanu, J. (2016). Contributions of hippocampus and striatum to memory-guided behavior depend on past experience. J. Neurosci. 36, 6459-6470.
  • John, M., Ikuta, T., and Ferbinteanu, J. (2017). Graph analysis of structural brain networks in Alzheimer’s disease: beyond small world properties. Brain Struct. Funct. 222, 923-942.
  • Ferbinteanu, J. (2018). Memory systems 2018 - Towards a new paradigm. Neurobiol. Learn. Mem. 13, 61-78.
  • List of Publications (Pub Med)