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Biotech Science Technology

Researchers Tweak Mouse Neurons To Activate Specific Memories 29

An anonymous reader writes "According to new study published in Nature (abstract), MIT researchers have figured out how to trigger specific memories in rats by hitting certain neurons with a pulse of light. From the article: 'The researchers first identified a specific set of brain cells in the hippocampus that were active only when a mouse was learning about a new environment. They determined which genes were activated in those cells, and coupled them with the gene for channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2), a light-activated protein used in optogenetics. ... The light-activated protein would only be expressed in the neurons involved in experiential learning — an ingenious way to allow for labeling of the physical network of neurons associated with a specific memory engram for a specific experience. Finally, the mice entered an environment and, after a few minutes of exploration, received a mild foot shock, learning to fear the particular environment in which the shock occurred. The brain cells activated during this fear conditioning became tagged with ChR2. Later, when exposed to triggering pulses of light in a completely different environment, the neurons involved in the fear memory switched on — and the mice quickly entered a defensive, immobile crouch.'"
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Researchers Tweak Mouse Neurons To Activate Specific Memories

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  • by Reverand Dave ( 1959652 ) on Friday March 23, 2012 @02:29PM (#39454351)
    Next up, a vacation without without going anywhere!
  • Your best souvenirs are just a flash of light away. However, you have to accept to be lobotomized and have a laser trigger some cells in your brain, but this is just a detail!

    I rather close my eyes and think about stuff that I can remember. I can even think about stuff that has not happened yet :-)

    Didn't RTFA, as usual.
    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      Think of the defense applications!

      An angry group of foreign citizens have surrounded the American Embassy in Egypt. All hope is lost. Suddenly, a flash of light from the roof - and everyone falls over vomiting and crying as they think about that one time they saw their parents fucking.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    We're not torturing him, we're just shining this light on him.
    It's not our fault he's reliving having his arm torn off over and over.
    • We're not torturing him, we're just shining this light on him. It's not our fault he's reliving having his arm torn off over and over.

      We're not cutting off his fingers, we're just pushing a blade into them. It's not our fault that his fingers don't hold together.

  • Lenny was not at fault, it was some homeless guy petting you.

    I'm sure there are countless politicians with a hard on just thinking about how to use this...

  • The protein structures behind memory are beginning to be understood:

    (Discovery of mBDNF) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3747716.stm [bbc.co.uk]
    (CaMKII association) http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/25/9170.abstract?sid=e8ce0965-4b50-4ee4-913b-16d422f25230 [jneurosci.org]
    (RNA handling of the proteins) http://www.newswise.com/articles/making-memories-how-one-protein-does-it [newswise.com]

    We're now very close to understanding how memories form and are activated.

    • Did you see this one that hypothesizes that modifications to microtubules inside neurons are the mechanism for memory (and possibly computation), with each neuron possibly storing many "bytes" of information?

      • by jd ( 1658 )

        Thanks for that! I'd remembered seeing a reference to it, but hadn't found the original article and couldn't find where I'd seen the original reference. However memory works, I need an upgrade. A 16K expansion pack should suffice.

        Now, if the neuron can indeed be coded this way, it would explain why just a few rat neurons can handle a flight simulator just fine. It would also explain why current models of biological neurons always fell short of reality -- as most models had assumed neurons stored a single st

  • Later, when exposed to triggering pulses of light in a completely different environment, the neurons involved in the fear memory switched on — and the mice quickly entered a defensive, immobile crouch.

    This does not sound convincing to me at all - there could be many reasons for the mouse to become defensive, one of the least likely of which is that a specific memory was triggered...

    • Luckily, you're dealing with Science, not armchair philosophers or youtube commentators. I appreciate your attempt at using logic, but don't trust the summary to explain everything. From the abstract, it seems Science has considered that you might have a point, and went back in time to address it.

      The mice showed increased freezing only upon light stimulation, indicating light-induced fear memory recall. This freezing was not detected in non-fear-conditioned mice expressing ChR2 in a similar proportion of

  • Rats will go into a defensive crouch pretty much at any sudden unexpected stimulus. Put an electrode into a pleasure center and activate it and the rat will go into a defensive crouch. You see this all the time when shaping in skinner boxes.

    It would be very hard to say that they were re-experiencing that specific memory.

  • Next there will be weapons created that can literally immobilize you through fear. Funny, is this not exactly what the Scarecrow did in Batman?
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      That was hallucinigenics. Try and make the target see what they most feared. I'd have thought Batmans worst fear would to be tangled up in nets.

  • Referring to the 17th-century French philosopher who wrote, "I think, therefore I am," Tonegawa says, "Rene Descartes didn't believe the mind can be studied as a natural science. He was wrong. This experimental method is the ultimate way of demonstrating that mind, like memory recall, is based on changes in matter."

    Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. The Mind-Body Problem isn't going down quite that easily.

    This issue isn't whether the brain participates in mental phenomena (that's been clearly known since the
  • This is simply creepy. Yes, there are potentially wonderful applications. There are also potentially horrendous ones. This is creepy.

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Mother Nature cannot be fooled. -- R.P. Feynman