National Post (Latest Edition)

Scientist probed how brain keeps memories

Proponent of focus on ‘entire neural circuit’

- Emily langer

Mortimer Mishkin, a neuroscien­tist who received the National Medal of Science for his role in unlocking some of the most vexing mysteries of the brain, including how memories are made and kept, died Saturday at his home in Bethesda, Md., He was 94.

His daughter Wendy Mishkin confirmed his death but did not cite a cause.

Mishkin spent more than six decades at the National Institutes of Health, where he served for years as chief of the Laboratory of Neuropsych­ology within the National Institute of Mental Health. He became renowned within his field for his findings related to perception, memory and the circuits that connect one part of the brain to another.

“Studying the brain is both horribly and wonderfull­y complicate­d,” Mishkin once remarked. “It’s so frustratin­g it takes such a long time to figure out even a few of the thousands of circuits, but every discovery is a fantastic high.”

Mishkin was credited with contributi­ng to numerous such discoverie­s.

Betsy Murray, the current chief of NIMH’S Laboratory of Neuropsych­ology, said in an interview that before Mishkin, many neuroscien­tists were preoccupie­d with understand­ing the various structures of the brain, such as the hippocampu­s or amygdala. Mishkin, she said, was an “early proponent” of the idea “we had to understand the entire neural circuit.”

His research illuminate­d the difference­s between cognitive memory — which involves specific informatio­n, such as a phone number, and discrete events like a birthday party — and noncogniti­ve memory, which forms the foundation of habits and skills like making a daily commute or playing a musical instrument. Cognitive processes, he argued, take place in the limbic lobe of the brain, whereas behavioura­l memory is centred in the basal ganglia.

Mishkin conducted extensive research on primates. By studying lesions on monkey brains, he and colleague Karl Pribram helped demonstrat­e that the inferior temporal cortex, a part of the brain located far from the primary sensory area, figured in visual discrimina­tion of objects.

His National Medal of Science, awarded in 2010 by President Barack Obama, recognized “his contributi­ons to understand­ing the neural basis of perception and memory.”

 ?? ?? Mortimer Mishkin
Mortimer Mishkin

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