Possibility That Scientists Might Have Discovered The Building Blocks Of Our Memory
Scientists are now discussing something very interesting that they may have come across. They believe that they have managed to identify the building blocks of memories, specifically the neurons that are associated with where we are now and what places we have visited in the past. The research involves lighting up these blocks within the brains of mice and it is hoped that this will lead to understanding of how memories form in our brains.
This particular piece of discovery was made when a team from the Institut de Neurobiologie de la Méditerranée in France added a fluorescent protein to neurons in four mice. This protein worked by lighting up when calcium ions flowed into a cell, clearly indicating that the neuron is fired up. When the mice ran on a treadmill, the neurons lit up in a sequential manner suggesting that they keeping track of how far the mice had ran. It was observed that when the animal was at rest the whole lighting process happened again but this time with a different pattern. The lights appeared in distinct blocks that represented different parts of the run. According to what the study leader Rosa Cossart, told Emily Benson at New Scientist, “We’ve been able to image the individual building-blocks of memory.”
The cells that were activated were not physically beside each other in the hippocampus of the brain but they showed associations with the other neurons that were involved in the process of recording the run. Some experts, however, are very doubtful about this explanation. They are asking whether there is enough evidence available to make the assumption that these particular neurons are helping build the memory.
Opposition to the above assumptions
Kamran Diba from University of Wisconsin said that there is no reason to believe that a continuous experience like the one the mice had on the treadmill, should be associated with splitting the cells into different blocks associated with memory. He told the New Scientist, “The cells essentially fire in order throughout the run, so why would it break down into discrete assemblies?”
Diba maybe doubtful about the results, but he admits that these experiments are actually very exciting. He said that if we really are looking at memory management patterns, then this opens of a whole new dimension for us. These results could help us understand how the human memory works and how can diseases that affect the memory specifically be tackled. We may have some information and understanding about how memory works (in mice and rats), like how place cells in hippocampus are associated with remembering the surroundings. However, the pattern in which these cells are fired up and how they are used by the brain is still very unclear.
The fluorescent protein the team had used in their studies can be very useful as it allows them to keep track of more than 1000 neurons in each mouse. This is a huge advancement from the previous technique that was used. The previous technique implanted electrodes and measured the brain activity but could only monitor about a hundred neurons per rodent at in one go.
The research is still in its initial stages and nothing very satisfactory has been decided yet.