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 Professor Mike Colombo

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Neural Basis of Learning and Memory

The focus of my research is the Neural basis of learning and memory and comparative animal cognition.

How Neurons in the Brain Code Memory

One series of studies examine how neurons in the brain code memory. Information in the brain is transmitted from one neuron to the next by bursts of electricity. Using standard electrophysiological techniques, we can “listen in” to these bursts of electricity. These bursts of electricity represent a language, and my research is designed to decipher that language. Using this technique we have explored the neural basis of memory, reward, visual processing, and gambling.

The Role of the Hippocampus in Learning and Memory

A second series of studies examine what the hippocampus contributes to learning and memory. In these studies we lesion the hippocampus and examine the effects of such lesion of learning and memory. The prevailing view is that the hippocampus is important for high forms of memory and cognition. Our studies, in contrast, suggest a far simpler role for the hippocampus, one involved in either detecting contingencies or navigating to points in space.

Cognitive Abilities of Birds on Par With Most Primates

Finally, in a third series of studies we examine the cognitive abilities of birds. The prevailing view is that primates stand apart from other animals such as birds in their mental abilities. In contrast, we have shown that is the task is designed properly, birds can show abilities on par with most primates.

Some Representative Publications

Scarf, D., Miles, K., Sloan, A., Goulter, N., Hegan, M., Seid-Fatemi, A., Harper, D., & Colombo, M. (2011). Brain cells in the avian 'prefrontal cortex' code for features of slot-machine-like gambling. PLoS ONE, 6, 1-7.

Scarf, D. and Colombo, M. (2010). Representation of Serial Order in Pigeons (Columba livia). Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 36, 423-429.

Colombo, M., & Hayne, H. (2010). Episodic memory: Comparative and developmental issues. In M. S. Blumberg, J. H. Freeman, and S. R. Robinson (Eds), Oxford Handbook of Developmental and Comparative Neuroscience, pp. 617-636. Oxford University Press.

Rose, J., & Colombo, M. (2005). Neural correlates of executive control in the avian brain. PLoS Biology, 3, 1139-1146.
Kalenscher, T., Windmann, S., Diekamp, B., Rose, J., Güntürkün, O., & Colombo, M. (2005). Single units in the pigeon brain integrate reward amount and time-to-reward in an impulsive choice task.

Current Biology, 15, 594-602.
Colombo, M., & Broadbent, N. (2000). Is the avian hippocampus a functional homologue of the mammalian hippocampus? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 24, 465-484.

Past and Present Support by

Marsden Foundation
Neurological Foundation
Health Research Council
Otago Research Grants

Link to Publications

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