Nav: Home

Scientists monitored brains replaying memories in real time

March 05, 2020

In a study of epilepsy patients, researchers at the National Institutes of Health monitored the electrical activity of thousands of individual brain cells, called neurons, as patients took memory tests. They found that the firing patterns of the cells that occurred when patients learned a word pair were replayed fractions of a second before they successfully remembered the pair. The study was part of an NIH Clinical Center trial for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy whose seizures cannot be controlled with drugs.

"Memory plays a crucial role in our lives. Just as musical notes are recorded as grooves on a record, it appears that our brains store memories in neural firing patterns that can be replayed over and over again," said Kareem Zaghloul, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon-researcher at the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and senior author of the study published in Science.

Dr. Zaghloul's team has been recording electrical currents of drug-resistant epilepsy patients temporarily living with surgically implanted electrodes designed to monitor brain activity in the hopes of identifying the source of a patient's seizures. This period also provides an opportunity to study neural activity during memory. In this study, his team examined the activity used to store memories of our past experiences, which scientists call episodic memories.

In 1957, the case of an epilepsy patient H.M. provided a breakthrough in memory research. H.M could not remember new experiences after part of his brain was surgically removed to stop his seizures. Since then, research has pointed to the idea that episodic memories are stored, or encoded, as neural activity patterns that our brains replay when triggered by such things as the whiff of a familiar scent or the riff of a catchy tune. But exactly how this happens was unknown.

Over the past two decades, rodent studies have suggested that the brain may store memories in unique neuronal firing sequences. After joining Dr. Zaghloul's lab, Alex P. Vaz, B.S., an M.D., Ph.D. student at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and the leader of this study decided to test this idea in humans.

"We thought that if we looked carefully at the data we had been collecting from patients we might be able to find a link between memory and neuronal firing patterns in humans that is similar to that seen in rodents," said Vaz, a bioengineer who specializes in deciphering the meaning of electrical signals generated by the body.

To do this they analyzed the firing patterns of individual neurons located in the anterior temporal lobe, a brain language center. Currents were recorded as patients sat in front of a screen and were asked to learn word pairs such as "cake" and "fox." The researchers discovered that unique firing patterns of individual neurons were associated with learning each new word pattern. Later, when a patient was shown one of the words, such as "cake," a very similar firing pattern was replayed just milliseconds before the patient correctly recalled the paired word "fox."

"These results suggest that our brains may use distinct sequences of neural spiking activity to store memories and then replay them when we remember a past experience," said Dr. Zaghloul.

Last year, his team showed that electrical waves, called ripples, may emerge in the brain just split seconds before we remember something correctly. In this study, the team discovered a link between the ripples recorded in the anterior temporal lobe and the spiking patterns seen during learning and memory. They also showed that ripples recorded in another area called the medial temporal lobe slightly preceded the replay of firing patterns seen in the anterior temporal lobe during learning.

"Our results support the idea that memories involve coordinated replay of neuronal firing patterns throughout the brain," said Dr. Zaghloul. "Studying how we form and retrieve memories may not only help us understand ourselves but also how neuronal circuits break down in memory disorders."
-end-
Article:

Vaz et al., Replay of cortical spiking sequences during human memory retrieval. Science, March 6 2020 DOI: 10.1126/science.aba0672

This study was supported by the NINDS Intramural Research Program and NIH training grants (NS113400, GM007171).

For more information:

http://www.ninds.nih.gov

neuroscience.nih.gov/ninds/Home.aspx

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Epilepsy-Information-Page clinicalcenter.nih.gov/

NINDS is the nation's leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Related Memory Articles:

Memory boost with just one look
HRL Laboratories, LLC, researchers have published results showing that targeted transcranial electrical stimulation during slow-wave sleep can improve metamemories of specific episodes by 20% after only one viewing of the episode, compared to controls.
VR is not suited to visual memory?!
Toyohashi university of technology researcher and a research team at Tokyo Denki University have found that virtual reality (VR) may interfere with visual memory.
The genetic signature of memory
Despite their importance in memory, the human cortex and subcortex display a distinct collection of 'gene signatures.' The work recently published in eNeuro increases our understanding of how the brain creates memories and identifies potential genes for further investigation.
How long does memory last? For shape memory alloys, the longer the better
Scientists captured live action details of the phase transitions of shape memory alloys, giving them a better idea how to improve their properties for applications.
A NEAT discovery about memory
UAB researchers say over expression of NEAT1, an noncoding RNA, appears to diminish the ability of older brains to form memories.
Molecular memory can be used to increase the memory capacity of hard disks
Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have taken part in an international British-Finnish-Chinese collaboration where the first molecule capable of remembering the direction of a magnetic above liquid nitrogen temperatures has been prepared and characterized.
Memory transferred between snails
Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro.
An immunological memory in the brain
Inflammatory reactions can change the brain's immune cells in the long term -- meaning that these cells have an 'immunological memory.' This memory may influence the progression of neurological disorders that occur later in life, and is therefore a previously unknown factor that could influence the severity of these diseases.
Anxiety can help your memory
Anxiety can help people to remember things, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.
Pores with a memory
Whether for separation processes, photovoltaics, catalysis, or electronics, porous polymer membranes are needed in many fields.
More Memory News and Memory Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.