Forget about reading minds; researchers from Case Western University have developed a way to insert memories into mice's minds.
Ben Strowbridge, a Professor of Neurosciences of Physiology and Biology, and Robert Hyde, a neuroscience post-doctoral student, have discovered how to store diverse types of artificial memories into brain tissue. They believe that their research will allow them the means to study exactly which brain circuits are responsible for creating short-term memories.
Memories are generally grouped into two categories. Implicit memories are the type of memory that uses previous memories to inform a new skill, even when a person is not consciously aware of those memories; these are used when a person rides a bike or other similar tasks. Declarative memories are ones that can be consciously recalled, like names or facts.
The study tried to create declarative memories, like the ones that are used to remember a phone number or email address that someone has just given.
The neuroscientists used isolated rodent tissue to form a memory in which one of four neural pathways was activated. The neural circuits located in the hippocampus maintained the memory of input for 10 seconds. Researchers were then able to identify which pathway was being stimulated by examining brain cell activity.
The researchers also found that they could make memories for specific contexts. The brain could remember if a pathway was activated by itself, or as part of a sequence. The study was an expansion of a previous study from Stowbridge and his colleagues, who found that the hippocampus could "remember" which one of two inputs was stimulated.
At the same time, research has identified the brain's mechanisms for converting short-term memories into long-term ones, which can be accessed months or years after their implantation. That study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, and was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Researchers hope that analyzing memory can help them understand neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and develop better treatments for them.
The study from Stowbridge and Hyde was published in Nature Neuroscience. The article is available online now, and will be published in print in October.