Researchers from the University of Guelph have examined regions of the brain that are responsible for recognizing and remembering objects and shed light on their inner workings, revealing that past experiences can affect recognition and memory. The findings could help scientists develop therapies for those suffering from schizophrenia as well as Alzheimer's disease and other disorders where people have a hard time recognizing familiar objects or people.

"Our study suggests that past experience with an object alters the brain circuitry responsible for object recognition," Boyer Winters, who headed the research team, said in a press release. "It has significant implications for our understanding of multisensory information processing."

Multisensory information processing is an important part of memory and refers to the process whereby two distinct kinds of memory are integrated in order to aid in recognition. For example, if you hold an object while blindfolded, you will likely recognize it by touch alone if you have seen it before, a process rooted in multisensory integration.

How is this possible? Specific areas of the brain specialize in the mediation of information for sight and thought, and some researchers believe that they communicate with each other in order to aid in object recognition. Conversely, some suggest that the brain integrates information from the senses and then stores it in a completely separate region, tapping into this area when it needs information to process and recognize objects.

In the current study, the team set out to determine the correct model by letting rats explore an object's tactile and visual characteristics for a short period of time. The following day, they exposed the rats to the same objects and compared their responses to a group of rats that were experiencing the object for the first time.

The results showed that rats that explored the objects for the first time used multiple, specialized brain regions in the recognition process, whereas the group of rats that were previously exposed to the objects utilized a separate part of their brain to perform the same memory task.

"Knowing what an object looks like enables them to assimilate information in a way that doesn't happen when there is no pre-exposure," Winters said. "Our study suggests there is an assigned region of the brain for memory based on previous experience with objects."

The findings were published in the Jan. 27 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.