Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Recording of memories can be modified

Your brain has a special way of dealing with memories in order to give them a permanent spot. A brain area called the hippocampus sort of repeats the brain activity associated with a particular event, and does so while you sleep. Basically, your experiences of the day are 'replayed' at night, which results in the neural connections getting a firm spot in your brain. Scientists from MIT tried to manipulate this process in order to study storage of memories more closely. They managed to modify the playback of dreams, thereby possibly opening the doors to modification of memory storage, and possibly even dreams.

Rats were used in the experiments, and they were given the task of running through a maze in order to find food. During their task, a specific sound was played, which was used to indicate in which direction the rats had to go to find the food. Because rats are good with this type of association, they quickly learned that a particular sound was tied to the location of the food. During the experiments in the maze, the researchers recorded brain activity associated with performing the task.

After having learnt the associations of the audio cue, the scientists started playback of the sound during the time the rats were asleep. They found that playing the sound was able to modify neural activity patterns in the hippocampus. In fact, the patterns that arose after playing the audio were similar to the patterns observed while the rats were running around in the maze. This indicates that cues can be used to modify the brain's 'playback content'. Basically, the researchers changed what the rat was recording while it was asleep.

Because playback of memories is used to make a semi-permanent record, the technique developed by MIT might be used to modify what is being stored in the brain. Because playback of events during sleep is also associated with dreaming, it may also be possible to 'break into dreams'. However, the study was designed in order to study the playback mechanism in the brain and to learn more about how it works. Because of their modification tool, the scientists are likely to gather more knowledge about how storing memory works exactly. And that is useful, because a lot of things are still unclear. While this is pure speculation, let's hope that they will also be able to improve the memory recording process in the future, making us learn things faster.

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