July 25, 2024

Neuroscientists Discover Mechanism of Memory Storage in the Brain

In a groundbreaking study, a team of neuroscientists led by Dr. Tomás Ryan from Trinity College Dublin has identified the mechanism by which memories are likely to be stored in the brain. The research shows that learning occurs through the continuous formation of new connectivity patterns between specific engram cells in different regions of the brain.

Our brains are constantly changing as we learn and interact with the world around us. Whether through intentional learning, incidental learning, or even by accident, our brains are constantly processing information and creating new memories. But how exactly do these experiences modify our neurons to allow us to form these memories?

The team of researchers aimed to understand how information is stored as engrams in the brain. Engram cells are groups of brain cells that change themselves to incorporate and hold information when activated by specific experiences. Reactivation of these engram cells triggers the recall of the associated experiences. The question was how these engrams store meaningful information about the world.

To study the changes that engrams undergo to encode a memory, the researchers focused on a form of learning in which similar experiences become linked by their content. They used genetic techniques to label two different populations of engram cells in the brain for two distinct memories. Through monitoring, they observed how learning manifested in the formation of new connections between these engram cells.

Using optogenetics, a technique that allows brain cell activity to be controlled with light, the researchers further demonstrated that these newly formed connections were necessary for learning to occur. They identified a molecular mechanism mediated by a specific protein in the synapse that regulates the connectivity between engram cells.

This study provides direct evidence that changes in synaptic wiring connectivity between engram cells are likely to be the mechanism for memory storage in the brain. Instead of searching for information within individual cells, the researchers suggest that learning works by altering the wiring diagram of the brain, resembling a developing sculpture rather than a computer.

Dr. Ryan, Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, commented on the study, highlighting that understanding the cellular mechanisms of learning helps advance our knowledge of how the brain processes thoughts and information. He suggests that memories are stored in engram cells or their sub-components, emphasizing the importance of considering information “between” cells rather than within them.

This research opens up new avenues for studying memory formation and could contribute to advancements in understanding how the human brain works. By unraveling the mechanisms behind memory storage, scientists may gain insights into treating memory-related disorders and improving cognitive function.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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