Scientists have made groundbreaking discoveries about how our brains store episodic memories, offering hope for the development of neuroprosthetic devices to assist individuals with memory disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and University of Erlangen, the study utilized implanted electrodes in epilepsy patients to observe individual neuron activity in the hippocampus region—a challenging area to study, yet crucial for memory.
The hippocampus acts as our brain’s memory librarian, capturing and directing experiences for later use. When we learn something new, the information is initially processed in the neocortex and then linked to specific groups of hippocampal neurons to form a neural assembly representing a memory.
In this study led by Dr. Luca Kolibius, patients formed memories of image pairs or triplets using stories as links. The researchers analyzed neuron firing rates during memory formation and recall, identifying “Episode Specific Neurons” that appear to reactivate memory assemblies during recall.
These neurons could be the key to preserving the elements of episodic memories, potentially guiding the development of neural prostheses. For example, a device could stimulate these neurons during memory retrieval to enhance memory recall.
Professor Simon Hanslmayr of the University of Glasgow stated, “We are incredibly excited by our findings because neurons that behave in such a way have been speculated to exist in the human hippocampus for a long time, but this is the first time we actually observed such neurons.”
Dr. Kolibius emphasized the importance of these neurons as memory guides, likening them to librarians leading us to cherished memories. Future research aims to determine if stimulating these neurons can trigger memory recall, holding promise for memory-related health conditions.
Source: University of Glasgow