When we think amnesia, we think memories lost forever. A new study, conducted on mice, shows that memory retrieval is possible.
One new research coming from MIT in collaboration with the Riken Brain Science Institute in Japan focused on the possibility of recalling memories via optogenetics.
Amnesia is quite a controversial topic in the neurosciences community. While some argue that amnesia is a result of permanently damaged brain cells, there are as many voices that argue to the contrary that memories are in fact blocked and cannot be recalled in the present.
In the midst of the debate, the research team conducted one experiment on mice that might shed light on how memory works.
Leaning more towards the second tide of arguments, Nobel-awarded Sususmu Tonegawa, part of the MIT research team stated that:
“The majority of researchers have favored the storage theory, but we have shown in this paper that this majority theory is probably wrong. Amnesia is a problem of retrieval impairment”.
To prove this statement, the scientists took on the task of bringing back the memories of mice by introducing a protein in the neurons which are normally activated when memories are created and stored. These neurons are called memory engrams. The protein reacts to blue light pulses, triggering responses from the neurons.
In the case of the mice, the memories were created on the spot. Two groups received electroshocks. The memory lived on as entailed by the fear of the shock chamber, until the mice were injected with anisomycin. This particular drug has significant effects on memories, much like retrograde amnesia.
When the mice re-entered the shock chamber, no particular reactions were registered until the blue light pulses effectively recalled the memory of the electroshocks they received in the beginning of the experiment.
Brain scans revealed that the memory engrams which are found in one part of the hippocampus were in close connection with other parts of the hippocampus, as well as the amygdala where fear responses are usually stored.
All of these connections were not affected in any way by the drug, thus offering the researchers the opportunity to successfully recall the mice’s memories. Without the blue light pulses however and the specific protein injected in the neurons, the process would have not been possible.
The MIT and Riken Institute study yields significant results for further development of memory clinical restoration in humans.
For now, these results, while of widely acknowledged importance, are not applicable to humans due to ethics and their invasive nature.
Image Source: neurorexia.com
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