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With an Artificial Memory Chip, Rats Can Remember and Forget At the Touch of a Button

• Rebecca Boyle via PopSci.com

A new brain implant tested on rats restored lost memories at the flick of a switch, heralding a possible treatment method for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or amnesia. Such a “neural prosthesis” could someday be used to facilitate the memory-forming process and help patients remember.

The device can mimic the brain’s own neural signals, thereby serving as a surrogate for a piece of the brain associated with forming memories. If there is sufficient neural activity to trace, the device can restore memories after they have been lost. If it’s used with a normal, functioning hippocampus, the device can even enhance memory.

In the study, scientists at Wake Forest University and the University of Southern California trained rats to learn a task, pressing one lever after another to receive water. In a series of tests, the rats pressed one lever and were then distracted. They had to remember which one they’d already pressed and therefore which lever to press next, left or right, in order to receive their reward.

The team attached electrodes to the rats’ brains, connected to two areas in the hippocampus, called CA1 and CA3. Prior research has shown that the hippocampus converts short-term memory into long-term memory. The team recorded the signals between these regions as the rats performed their tasks, and then they drugged the rats so that the hippocampus regions could not communicate. The rats forgot which lever to press next, said Theodore Berger, a biomedical engineering professor at USC and lead author of the study, which is published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

“The rats still showed that they knew ‘when you press left first, then press right next time, and vice-versa,’” Berger said. “And they still knew in general to press levers for water, but they could only remember whether they had pressed left or right for 5-10 seconds.”

 

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