Memory and manipulation of it

Original author: Lisa
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Have you ever envied Kate Winslet’s character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Would you ever be able to erase the memory of a terrible past by simply pressing a button? (I’m for sure after one of my ex told me that trees have souls, but I don’t). Or vice versa, bring the elusive memory back to the brain? (I am sure that everyone who has ever been on the exam would definitely like this). Would you like to be able to manage memory?

First, let me tell you a little about the memory itself. People imagine the memory as a big bag filled with lyrics, awkward moments from the distant past and the first half of anecdotes. You put it in the brain, time passes, you take it out, shake off the dust, and she again, like new. Sorry to break your ideas, but this is not true at all. Memories are stored in the whole brain at once. They are dynamic and fragile; they change by new experiences and are subject to intervention. Memories are not files stored in a box, but delicate plants that need to be cared for and taken care of so that they stay with you for a long time (this brilliant metaphor answers the question why I don’t write poems or works of art).

Crates or flowers? Fragile flowers.

Let's get a look.

1. How are memories created and stored in the brain?

When you are experiencing a certain experience - let's say, David Bowie embraced you (this is the first thing that came to my mind when I asked myself about an example of a significant event, I'm sorry) - your brain encodes a lot of information: the smell of Bowie perfume, his look, his touch suit, furniture in the room in which you are. These sensory signals are sent to the hippocampus, a seahorse-like structure deep in the brain, responsible for creating new memories. Hippocampus ties these pieces of information together, creating a coherent episode of them (“When I Met Bowie”).

Seahorse with his double

As scientists say, memory is consolidating. When you recall this event, the entire neurological ensemble belonging to the memory is re-activated, and the connections between neurons (which are called synapses in the world of science) associated with memory become stable. As a result, when you hear the ballad Celine Dion, you most likely remember your first kiss at a summer camp disco (at least with me like that).


Recently, scientists from MIT have made a breakthrough in the study of memory: they showed how specific memories are stored in specific brain cells, and activating a small cluster of memory cells is enough to make a test subject (mouse) remember everything. The physical essence of the engram has been provenand it has ceased to be a simple concept. This makes such amazing applications possible (in a very distant future): erasing memory, improving memory, changing memory ... And here we come to the next point.

2. How can memory be manipulated?

As I mentioned, the memories are unstable. If you do not reactivate the trace of the memory often enough, it weakens and the memory disappears. In addition, every time you access memory, it becomes vulnerable. This process is called reconsolidation. Imagine it this way: every time you reactivate a memory, it becomes like molten glass, which may slightly change before solidification. Memory is a creative process guys.

Elizabeth Loftus, known for researching false memories, has studied for decades how the experience she received later changes her memories. She found that different information received after the event, for example, leading questions, can change our memories of the event. Suppose you witness an accident. Later, if you are asked, "How fast did the cars go before they collide?", You will most likely appreciate the speed lower than if you were asked "And how fast did the cars go before crashing?". So perhaps we should not rely so heavily on testimony?

Or, say, you want to forget the weirdness of your ex. You can use tequila. Another way is to disrupt the process of reconsolidation at the cellular level. It worked for mice: the part of the brain involved in reconsolidation, with the help of optogenetics , muffled the mouse at the moment when they recalled the electrical discharge that they were used in a certain room. The next day, many mice subjected to such manipulation did not recall that something bad had happened to them in this room, and ran carelessly through it. Apparently, preventing the re-stabilization of the contextual memory can help erase it. Hello, the future of post-traumatic stress disorder treatment!

There is another way to erase memory. Remember that memories are clusters of neurons firmly connected in a special way? An interesting study by Nabavi and colleagues showed that memory can be erased and re-restored, optogenetically weakening and strengthening the connections between the neurons that make up this memory. If this is not cool, then I do not know what could be cool! Goodbye, silly ex and your damn talk with the trees!


By the way, about post-traumatic stress disorder: if erasing memory seems too extreme a way of treatment, there are others. Apparently, it is possible to change the emotional memory of the event. Redondo and colleagues managed to tear the memory away from the emotional context associated with her (I smelled a female in this room! What a nice and emotionally pleasant room!) And connect the selected memory to another emotion (Oh my God! Something terrible happened in this room! Better I'm in the corner zamra). Sorry, I forgot to mention that it was about mice, not people. Scientists have manipulated the connections between the hippocampus, where, as we know, contextual information about the event is stored, and the cerebellar amygdala, where the emotional component of memory is stored. Maybe, In the future, will it be possible to detach memories of the battlefield from panic and horror among veterans? Maybe they will associate it with calm and Zen? Or, at least, with neutral emotions? Hope damn it!

Tiny heroes of memory studies

Let us now forget and change, and turn to improvement. This technology can, for example, help Alzheimer's sufferers strengthen weakening synapses in certain engrams (let's make synapses great again!Excuse me). Another way to get extra abilities related to memory is to stimulate the brain with magnetic fields (quick excursion into neurology methods: TMS - transcranial magnetic stimulation = magnetic fields passing through the skull stimulate electrical currents inside. It's harmless, you want - believe it or not - not!). Voss and the team used TMS to improve activity in the circuit between the hippocampus and the neocortex, which is considered critical for memory formation. After a few days of such stimulation, the participants in the experiment did much better with the tasks of memorization! Imagine it this way: TMS improved the way between these two points, but did not change the type of vehicles traveling along them (that is, TMS does not specialize only in improving certain memories). And last on the list but not least (and my favorite), an example of memory manipulation is the implantation of false memories. I have alreadytalked about it . But adored, make the mouse believe in what was not? The future is here, people! It is here!

Illustrations for the post made my friend and talented artist Tom. Her work can be appreciated here !

Links to the mentioned studies for the brave and courageous:

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