MIT discovers location of memories: Individual neurons

Discussion in 'Science and Nature' started by g0pher, Mar 23, 2012.

  1. ExtremeTech » MIT discovers the location of memories: Individual neurons

    MIT researchers have shown, for the first time ever, that memories are stored in specific brain cells. By triggering a single neuron, the researchers were able to force the subject to recall a specific memory. By removing this neuron, the subject would lose that memory.

    As you can imagine, the trick here is activating individual neurons, which are incredibly small and not really the kind of thing you can attach electrodes to. To do this, the researchers used optogenetics, a bleeding edge sphere of science that involves the genetic manipulation of cells so that they're sensitive to light. These modified cells are then triggered using lasers; you drill a hole through the subject's skull and point the laser at a small cluster of neurons.

    Now, just to temper your excitement, we should note that MIT's subjects in this case are mice - but it's very, very likely that the human brain functions in the same way. To perform this experiment, though, MIT had to breed genetically engineered mice with optogenetic neurons - and we're a long, long way off breeding humans with optogenetic brains.

    In the experiment, MIT gave mice an electric shock to create a fear memory in the hippocampus region of the brain (pictured above) - and then later, using laser light, activated the neurons where the memory was stored. The mice “quickly entered a defensive, immobile crouch,” strongly suggesting the fear memory was being recalled.

    The main significance here is that we finally have proof that memories (engrams, in neuropsychology speak) are physical rather than conceptual. We now know that, as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, specific memories can be erased. It also gives us further insight into degenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders, which are mostly caused by the (faulty) interaction of neurons. “The more we know about the moving pieces that make up our brains,” says Steve Ramirez, co-author of the paper. “The better equipped we are to figure out what happens when brain pieces break down.”

    Bear in mind, too, that this research follows on from MIT's discovery last year of Npas4, the gene that controls the formation of memories; without Npas4, you cannot remember anything. MIT has successfully bred mice without the Npas4 gene.

    The question now, though, is how memories are actually encoded - can we programmatically create new memories and thus learn entire subjects by inserting a laser into our brain? We know that a cluster of neurons firing can trigger the memory of your first kiss - but why? How can 100 (or 100,000) neurons, firing in a specific order, conjure up a beautifully detailed image of an elephant? Hopefully that's next on MIT's list.
  2. That is beautiful and clean. I'll be spending, at least, the day checking this out. Thanks for the article post.
  3. Excellent article,
    truly ground-breaking discovery
    I can't wait to see this theory develop.
  4. Hmm it seems like the title of the article is a bit misleading. They start out saying that memories are stored in individual neurons but, by the end, they seem to be talking about the same neuronal network model of memory that has been around for decades and that has already been at the least very strongly hinted at by many other studies. There is a very important difference between these two claims. The first one is bold as fuck, and incredibly counter-intuitive. The second is old news. did they actually discover? The optogenetics sound cool and all, but I don't see what headway has really been made on memory. More than 10 years ago, neuroscientists had already basically assumed that this was how memory works (since it is really the simplest and most intuitive model) and began moving on to more important questions like exactly how, on a molecular level, these neuronal networks are formed. This led to a bunch of more specific sub-fields that are now being studied, such as encoding and long-term potentiation.

    I hate it when science gets sensationalized to the point that it's not even coherent any more. But then, I guess "MIT Read an Article about the Location of Memories....Turns out it's Neurons!" would have been a pretty shitty title. :rolleyes:
  5. @ Meursault - I believe the importance is that the memory association was found, observed, and removable if not toggle-able. A more exacting proof of concept with applicable use... hopefully.

    If we can't put this to use on PTSD patients in the near future I would be surprised.

  6. It had already been pretty damn solidly observed though, and the removability of specific memories was nowhere near proven (or even attempted?) in this study. I don't really want to dig out books to cite specific studies but I will if you'd like.

    One of the main studies that come to mind even without the books is the one linking dreams to memory solidification in rats. It showed that the same neuronal networks that were firing while rats were learning to run new mazes during the day were also being activated that night during REM sleep. Most importantly, if the rats were woken up every time they entered REM sleep, they could be shown a maze that they were supposed to have learned the day before and they would have no memory of it whatsoever.

    I'm sure I can find the name of the study if you don't want to accept my synopsis. It's relatively new research, but that particular paper was probably published 5+ years ago. It seems to me that it basically proved everything this study did, and much more. Of course, it too was not the first study of its kind...
  7. Science is no longer on humanity's side.
  8. [quote name='"MaxAmmo"']Science is no longer on humanity's side.[/quote]

    Wut? Science doesnt have a side. Its the knowlege of the nature of the universe.

    Do you mean corrupt brainwashing.robots are not on our side? Because thats a very pessimistic and unlikely view of the future.

    Terminator and battle star galactica are unlikely outcomes
  9. so now our memories can be deleted. somebody needs to completely sabotage this information.

    who controls the past controls the future right ...

    i really, really, REALLY, don't want anybody to have the ability to remove my memories. no thanks
  10. But some people will, and that's the need. It is just a tool like most information. For good or bad it's about how it's wielded not that it's known.
  11. Science is on the side that wields it.

    And the side that wields it has no care for humanity.

    Science has helped cancers, disease, illness, retardation and whatnot spread like a, a VIRUS!

    Humans were a HUGELY healthy until medicine/science came along and said 'you can do those terrible things, we might fix it, if you're rich enough'.
  12. Like I said before, saving the sick is only hurting humanity.

    It's greed that wants INDIVIDUALs to to thrive.

    Who cares about the future people, I want MINE now!
  13. [quote name='"MaxAmmo"']Science is on the side that wields it.

    And the side that wields it has no care for humanity.

    Science has helped cancers, disease, illness, retardation and whatnot spread like a, a VIRUS!

    Humans were a HUGELY healthy until medicine/science came along and said 'you can do those terrible things, we might fix it, if you're rich enough'.[/quote]

    Average life span doubled since science. Most deadly.diseasds were cured.

    Cancer is a side effect of aging. It happens when dna damage accumilates over time. Yes some.things like all natural uv light and carbon monoxide increase the rate of dna damage. But science is hardly to blame. Like i said, we get cancer because we live so long.

    Heart diseas is from sugar and so is diabetes. Texhnology can help you eat more veggies and less candy thas your.choice.

    Your quarrel with technology is unfounded
  14. I never really understood this and then I started reading a book by Aubrey de Gray and Michael Rae, which explains mitochondrial DNA damage and mitochondrial evolution, we never needed to fight chronic damage so our bodies have a limited way of dealing with it...evolution didn't account for our life spans doubling so quickly.

    I'm still early in the book so I know there is more than this but that alone says a LOT about how our increased life span is giving us a myriad of issues to look into...but don't worry we'll have it all sorted out soon enough :D
  15. this study is fucking retarded. seriously.
    stepping back and looking at it in the big picture...this shit is stupid. cool ideai guess, but to bring into reality, is just, absurd. fucking dumb.
    ONCE again...
    fuck humans. we all suck.
  16. Why?... the "it" could also use clarification.
  17. I find you highly unqualified to make such a statement.
  18. What MIT researchers MAY have demonstrated is that by "triggerering" a group of neurons (neural network) one causes the recall of a percept or series of percepts from an atemporal repository of memory, not from the group of neurons. Think of the complexity and depth of a memory you can recall from childhood. To say that the memory is stored in the neural network (or worse, a single neuron) is just silly. The recalled memory causes the individual to re-experience the image/event through the same neural network that forwarded the memory to the atemporal depository. Remove that neural network and you will not be able to recall and therefore re-experience the memory. Since it is totally impossible to store a memory or even a single percept in a neural network, what the MIT researchers MAY have demonstrated is the relationship and function of neural networks in the brain relative to the true repository of memory, capable of such storage and speed of recall, the atemporal component of all cells. See also, The Truly Astonishing Hypothesis at Truly Astonishing Hypothesis.
  19. Why, because that doesn't jive with your nonsensical religious beliefs? I'm not willing to ignore the opinion of the scientific community in favor of a product researcher/developer. As your book, which you clearly came here to promote, clearly states what you say is barely even a hypothesis although reading your post it seems like it is a the most obvious of facts.
  20. DjSmokeBowls, so you attack me because you don't understand or don't want to? The Hypothesis is not a religious idea, just because it deals with the atemporal. You can get a free copy for your Kindle through my website. Consider it.

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