Memories have always been an integral part of human life. From pleasant to disturbing, they come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes go on to overrule a life in the form of severe disorders like False Memory Syndrome, Schizophrenia etc. This is exactly why they have been a subject of absolute interest to neuroscientists around the world. A lot of research associated with memories has already been done and one of them also went on to win a Nobel Prize last year. Yet, every new finding is a breakthrough into the world of the brain and its mysterious ways.
This time neuroscientists from France have been successful in placing false memories in sleeping mice. What is interesting about this research is that these false memories actually affected the behavior of mice when they woke up! This study also revealed the importance of sleep in turning such false memories into conscious memories. The scientists explored two major areas of the brain to conduct this experiment – the Medial Forebrain Bundle (MFB) which is associated with the reward system and the hippocampus which is the learning and memory hub of any animal.
In the hippocampus, the focus was on a specific kind of neurons called the place cells. As the name suggests, these cells are more like the GPS of the brain which get activated when an animal is in a specific location and are essential for spatial navigation. Here’s what the researchers did: first they identified specific place cells by allowing the mice to explore the surroundings and recording their neuronal activity. When these cells fired the next time the mice entered a particular place, the scientists stimulated the MFB with the help of electrodes. This led to the creation of a false positive association that when you go to that particular place, you will get rewarded.
When these mice went to sleep after the activation of this false memory, the hippocampus which is known to replay the day’s experiences during sleep revealed that the MFB was automatically stimulated when the specific place cell fired. Also when the mice woke up, they headed straight to this place associated with false memory in the hope of finding some reward. They even spent longer time in such places compared to the control mice suggesting that they had a conscious memory that some kind of reward was associated with this place.
Unfortunately, for now this study is restricted to mice only. But as and when implanting false memories becomes possible in humans, it could greatly assist people with memory disorders and problematic memories. Also in the hindsight, this could also lead to false usage of this technique to take undue advantage of a person.
The original publication can be accessed here.