Study Find First in Human Evidence of How Memories Form

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Summary: Researchers have identified the characteristics of over 100 memory-sensitive neurons that play a key role in how memories are recalled in the brain.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

In a discovery that could one day benefit people suffering from traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia, UT Southwestern researchers have identified the characteristics of more than 100 memory-sensitive neurons that play a central role in how memories are recalled in the brain.

Bradley Lega, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery, Neurology, and Psychiatry, said his findings, published in the journal NeuroImage, may point to new deep brain-stimulation therapies for other brain diseases and injuries.

“It sheds important light on the question, ‘How do you know you are remembering something from the past versus experiencing something new that you are trying to remember?’” said Dr. Lega, a member of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute.

The most significant finding was that firing occurs with different timing relative to other brain activity when memories are being retrieved. This slight difference in timing, called “phase offset,” has not been reported in humans before. Together, these results explain how the brain can “re-experience” an event, but also keep track of whether the memory is something new or something previously encoded.

“This is some of the clearest evidence to date showing us how the human brain works in terms remembering old memories versus forming new memories,” Dr. Lega said.

His study identified 103 memory-sensitive neurons in the brain’s hippocampus and entorhinal cortex that increase their rate of activity when memory encoding is successful. The same pattern of activity returned when patients attempted to recall these same memories, especially highly detailed memories.

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