Stimulating brain cells can make false memories
By activating a subset of brain cells in mice, researchers changed the way the animals remembered a particular setting. To determine if they could alter the way a mouse remembered a setting by activating neurons associated with it, researchers attempted to change whether or not a mouse was afraid of a particular cage. Their experiements implicated neurons in the brain’s dentate gyrus as being responsible for inducing the animal’s false memory of their cage.
Aug. 1, 2013 — Any crime scene investigator can tell you that memories are unreliable; the way people remember a place or event changes over time and varies between individuals. But for the mice in one lab at MIT, the accuracy of memories is even more suspect. Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers in that lab have discovered how to alter the animals’ memories by turning on neurons in the brain that are associated with the memories and updating them with new information.The new findings, which appear in the journal Science, illustrate that a mouse can be made to fear a cage by giving it a foot shock while at the same time reactivating a memory of the cage to associate the two.”The kinds of things that once existed only in the realm of science fiction movies like Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are now experimentally possible,” says Steve Ramirez, a graduate student in the lab of HHMI investigator Susumu Tonegawa and first author of the new work.Researchers knew that memories are stored by the brain in a small set of neurons. Understanding how this information is encoded could be key to understanding how human memory works as well as memory disorders. But identifying exactly which neurons are linked to specific memories has been technically challenging.Ramirez and Tonegawa, along with Xu Liu, a postdoctoral fellow in Tonegawa’s lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had previously developed a way to pinpoint the specific handful of neurons that are activated in the brains of mice in any particular situation. The technique relies on optogenetics, a method of controlling brain cells through bursts of light developed by HHMI early career scientist Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University. The researchers engineered brain cells to produce a light-sensitive protein whenever the neurons were activated in a new setting or situation. Then, by shining a light onto the brain through a fiber optic cable connected to the mouse’s skull, they could reactivate only that subset of neurons. Even without reactivating the cells, they could determine which cells had been activated by measuring which contained the light-sensitive protein. …
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