Learning and Memory
Effects of alcohol and other drugs of abuse on behaviour
Sleep and sleep deprivation
Learning is a process by which the experiences are recorded and allow animals to respond to events in a different manner because it provides behavioural flexibility. This phenomenon has been of great interest from proximate and functional viewpoints. Learning, many times, promote the formation of memories. Memory is one of the most relevant cognitive processes because allow holding information from experience. However, many diseases disrupt both learning and memory processes and cause enormous damages to normal life.
In our lab, we try to develop new learning and memory protocols in order to test wide variety elements that could improve or disrupt these processes development.
Drugs are substances that have biological effects on human and other animals. In our lab, we investigate two licit drugs: alcohol and nicotine, and also some other medical drugs, as antidepressants and anxiolytic substances.
Alcohol is the most popular of all the recreational drugs, and the costs and consequences of alcoholism place a huge onus on society. In moderate amounts, it has stimulating and anxiolytic effects, which is, in many cases, associated with the addiction development. In high doses it causes loss of motricity control, disorientation and sedation, which are considered the depressant effects of the drug.
Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant commonly used by people. Depending on the amount consumed, it causes physiological and behavioral alteration such as increased heart hate and alertness, and decrease of fatigue and drowsiness. The substance is also involved in some symptoms of insomnia and anxiety.
Overall, we focus on determining the effects of these drugs on behaviour, characterizing behaviour under the acute and chronic effects of the drug, but more than that, the effects of the drugs on learning and memory processes.
Sleep is a widespread phenomenon characterized by altered consciousness and decreased sensorial and voluntary activities. Studies suggest that prolonged sleep deprivation may induce to attention decline and memory loss, which could lead to major learning impairment.
In which extent can sleep deprivation affect normal behaviour and learning is one of the focus of our lab studies. Sleeping seems to be such an important event that even aversive learning is damaged. Besides that, we want to understand how the light cycle can interfere on normal sleeping behaviour and affect learning over a longer period of time.
Each animal’s response to environmental challenges vary according to their on individual differences. These differences are called animal personality. The most wide investigated personality trait is shyness-boldness, which has been shown to confer different vantages to those classified as shy or bold. Bolder males take advantage on mate choice due to female preference for the trait, but however, shyer males seem to live longer and learn tasks involving environmental cues faster due to their higher attention and caution. So the natural selection and the sexual selection are both acting on the maintenance of these personality traits in the animal population.
In our lab we try to develop new tasks to classify fishes according to their personality trials, not only shyness-boldness, but also sociability, risk taking, exploration and so on. We then investigate differences between males and females and the influence of the behavioural trait on mate choice, nest building, aggression, and drugs seeking behaviour.