MAR 04, 2020 9:07 AM PST

Memories Are Stored As Specific Neural Firing Patterns

WRITTEN BY: Amanda Mikyska

Scientists working on the EPFL Blue Brain Project explain the algebraic patterns of neuron activity. 

Scientists at the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recently published data showing that specific memories are stored in the brain as a pattern of neuron activity.  The long-time assumption has been that memories are stores as a pattern activity, but Dr. Kareem Zaghloul’s team at NINDS visualized the mechanism.  

At first, the team was monitoring the brain activity of epilepsy patients living with surgically implanted electrodes.  The approach is a long-chance effort to identify the source of the seizures and surgically correct the cause. However, the team decided that while they had access to lots of live neuronal activity, they would try to visualize the mechanism of specific memories.  

Dr. Zaghloul’s team recorded the neuronal activity in the anterior temporal lobe while they asked participants to memorize word pairs.  The word pairs were meaningless, such as “cat” and “pie,” to ensure that the participants would have to create a new memory for the word pair.  The researchers recorded the neuron activity while the participants learned the word, and later when participants were asked to recall the word pairs.  The data showed that a new pattern of neuron activity was created when the participants learned the word pair, and the exact same pattern was fired off fractions of a second before the participants correctly recalled the pair.  

The study provides visual data of the mechanism of memory storage and recall in the brain.  The data confirms long-time assumptions and bolster those assumptions with detail. This research will help scientists understand neural circuits in the brain and better understand disorders that cause a breakdown in memory or recall. 

 

Sources: Vaz et. al., EPFL Blue Brain Project, ScienceDaily

About the Author
  • Amanda graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a degree in Biology. After working in research on creating biochemicals from genetically engineered yeast, she started freelance science writing while traveling the world. Now, Amanda is a Lab Manager and Research Assistant at the the University of Central Florida, studying the molecular phylogeny of parasitic wasps. She writes about the latest research in Neuroscience, Genetics & Genomics, and Immunology. Interested in working on solutions for food/water security, sustainable fuel, and sustainable farming. Amanda is an avid skier, podcast listener, and has run two triathlons.
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