A new study has discovered how exactly memories are formed inside the brain. Researchers have found out that the medial temporal lobe plays a very important part in the brain’s ability to form memories involving real-life experiences, events and persons. The paper was published in the journal Neuron.
According to one of the researchers involved in the study, Itzhak Fried, the head of the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at UCLA, this study could offer insight into the neural code used when memories are formed. Moreover it can help with the development of treatments for patients who suffer from memory impairment such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury.
For the study researchers used 14 people who suffered from severe epilepsy. The patients were implanted electrodes in the brains in order to observe where the seizure was. Afterwards they were showed pictures of celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Clint Eastwood and Jennifer Aniston who were in different places such as the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The purpose of this experiment was to trigger the patient’s brains to form new associations between a place and a person. Previously the participants viewed separate images of the celebrities and the places.
The lead author of the study Matias Ison from the University of Leicester explained that they wanted to observe changes in the firing of neurons. And it seems that the researchers’ theory was right. The neurons indeed changed their firing properties at the exact moment when the new memories were formed. The neurons associated with the celebrity and the place fired at the same time. Ison remarked:
„It was impressive to see how individual neurons signaled the learning of new contextual associations between people and places and that the changes in firing could occur just after one instance.”
After this study researchers will concentrate on finding out why particular related concepts turn into long-term memories whereas others are forgotten. Moreover they will also try to find out whether it is possible to stimulate the brain in order to retrieve the associations which were learned.
Such studies could one day lead to methods of erasing or changing memories which are associated with traumatic and painful events.
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