Axel Guskjolen

  • Position: graduate student

  • Originally from: Saskatoon

  • Degree(s): BSc, MSc

  • Joined in: Jan 2012

Where did you study before coming to Toronto: I obtained by undergraduate and master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Saskatchewan.

Currently working on: The role of hippocampal neurogenesis in the adult mammalian brain, and in particular how this process relates to learning and memory.

Favorite paper: A recent paper I really like is Zhang et al. (2011) – Computational design of enhanced learning protocols (advanced online publication).

In this paper Zhang and colleagues ask whether we know enough about how neurons communicate during memory formation that we can successfully use this information to improve upon traditional learning protocols. The authors predict that high levels of convergence between the PKA and ERK signalling cascades lead to enhanced memory formation. To test this hypothesis, the authors developed a simple computational model that identified training protocols in Apysia that maximize the interactions between these two biochemical cascades.Within the parameters set by researchers, the computational model found that the protocol that most maximized interactions between the PKA and ERK cascades had inter-trial intervals of 10, 10, 5, and then 30min. This is in dramatic contrast to the standard Aplysia training regime which uses four evenly dispersed (20min) inter-trial intervals. Relative to the standard 20-20-20-20 training protocol, the 10-10-5-30 training protocol resulted in enhanced synaptic facilitation in vitro and an approximately 2.5-fold improvement in memory performance five days following training. That the 10-10-5-30 training regime improves memory (relative to the standard protocol) is thoroughly unintuitive and could not have been predicted a priori without knowledge of how neurons communicate during memory formation. This paper is an elegant demonstration of how knowledge at one level of analysis (i.e., the biochemical level) can lead to tangible and important effects at much higher level of analysis (i.e., the psychological and behavioural level).

Why science? If I weren’t a scientist, I would be… I am very much interested in the human condition and the nature of reality. As such, if I wasn’t a scientist I would probably be a philosopher. I would spend my days thinking about the hard problem of consciousness, epistemology, the nature of time, and perhaps ethical theory.

Interests outside the lab: I like playing videogames (RPGs in particular). I also enjoy sports, reading books, and hanging out with friends over a drink or three.

Favorite place in Toronto: I live in the Annex, and I find the houses in this area beautiful and the atmosphere relaxing. The Annex is my favourite place in Toronto so far.