Researchers at the UCLA’s Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory claim that they had found what neural changes occur when our brain associates a person with a place to create memories.
Scientists found that some neurons in a precise area of the human brain alter their behavior when the brain tries to link people to places. Itzhak Fried, the head of the laboratory said that the findings can help researchers understand the “neural code” behind memory and how neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s impair memories.
But the latest research is an extension of a previous study that had found the dedicated neurons in the medial temporal lobe which get activated whenever we try to associate persons with places.
Additionally, a second study found that those neurons also change behavior when we try to associate two people but only if those people have something in common, like two actors that play in the same series.
In order to find out whether the link the brain creates when trying to create a memory of two persons were the dedicated neurons, the UCLA team started a new study. During their research they analyzed neurons in the brains of 14 living epilepsy patients who had electrodes implanted in their brains to detect the cause of their seizures.
The team used the electrodes to learn more about the neurons in the medial temporal lobe. They first showed study participants a photo of a person to see which neurons respond to person-related memories. Then, they showed participants pictures of places like the Eiffel Tower or the Tower of Pisa.
Then, they used photoshopped images of the specific persons and the places. Surprisingly, the brain activated the same neurons as it does when trying to remember a friend and the last place you met him.
“When the association is created, suddenly the [nerve] cell very rapidly changes its firing properties,”
Mr. Fried explained.
He also said that an individual nerve cell responded in the same way to a picture of a specific person and a picture of a specific place. But associating a place to a person creates a different pattern. And those cells may also respond when we create memories that involve feelings and sensations, as well, not only people and places.
Previous research had shown that the medial temporal lobe displays visible changes in Alzheimer’s disease patients. And if the disease alters the same neurons that make associations, we may find an explanation to why patients diagnosed with the condition can’t remember simple things like where they parked their car.
Image Source: LTAA
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