A study published in the journal Neuron explains how the brain forms memories. It seems that when it comes to understanding how the nerve cells behave when they record memories of a person or place an essential role is played by the medial temporal lobe. The neurons in a certain area of the brain behave differently when the brain associates a certain person with a particular place.
The researchers involved in the study concentrated on examining the neurons in the medial temporal lobe which are associated with episodic memory. This type of memory is based on quick formations of associations made by the brain and it stores unique experiences. Episodic memory refers to the brain’s ability to remember events which took place in the past such as meeting an old friend in an unusual place.
For the study the research team used 14 epilepsy patients. The participants had electrodes implanted in their brain in order to clarify the source of the seizure. The patients allowed the researchers to use electrodes temporary in order to analyze the individual brain cells from the brain’s medial temporal lobe.
First of all the investigators identified the neurons which reacted to pictures of a specific celebrity like Jennifer Aniston or Clint Eastwood. Afterwards they identified the neurons which responded to images of specific places such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Eiffel Tower.
After these two stages the researchers showed the patients fake photos with Clint Eastwood at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Jennifer Aniston at the Eiffel Tower. The idea was to make the brain of the participants form new associations between the place and the celebrity. That is when the neurons in the medial temporal lobe changed their behavior. The neurons which responded to the images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the image of Clint Eastwood both activated.
The study could help scientists better understand memory loss and thus find new ways to treat and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Author of the study Itzhak Fried from the Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory at UCLA said that besides helping with Alzheimer’s the study can also offer insight into how the neural code which serves memory functions. He also said that any brief exposure to any kind of content changes the brain.
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