For the first time in history, researchers have succeeded to identify what they trust to be the building blocks of memories, in detail, the neurons that hold the information linked to where we are and where we have journeyed in the past. By sparking up these building blocks in the brains of many mice, it is expected that we can study more about the manner memories form in our own brains, the scientists behind the research say. A team of scientists from the Institut de Neurobiologie de la Méditerranée in France made the finding by adding a fluorescent protein to neurons in 4 mice. This specific protein sparks up when calcium ions flow into a cell, a sure symbol that the neuron is firing. As the mice walked on a treadmill, the neurons sparked up and became energetic in a sequential form, proposing that they were keeping the record of how far they had run. When the animals were at rest, the same 'light show' acted, but more rapidly, and with neurons starting in distinct 'blocks' that seemed to characterize different parts of the run.
Research leader Rosa Cossart told Emily at New Scientist, "We have imaged the individual building-blocks of memory."
The cells that fired were not all actually next to everyone in the hippocampus of the brain, the scientists say, but they revealed clear relations with other neurons involved in tracking the run. But there is room for argument here, with other scientists searching for the idea that this is plenty evidence to suggest that these neurons are real 'memory building blocks'.
According to Kamran Diba from the University of Wisconsin, He said to New Scientist, "there is no point and reason, why continuous experiences like the mice had on the treadmills, would then later be break up into different blocks of cells. The cells essentially fire in order throughout the run, so why would it break down into discrete assemblies?"
Nonetheless, Diba states that the new researches are of real concern, and if we actually are seeing arrangements of memory management as they occur, we could increase our knowledge about how human memory works, also how diseases that affect memory, like Alzheimer's, can be better avoided. While we study some information of how memory works in the brain (in mice and rats, so far), such as the usage of something called place cells in the hippocampus devoted to memorizing the surrounding world, what's less clear is the form in which these cells fire, and how they are handled by the brain. The fluorescent protein method used by the team at the Institut de Neurobiologie de la Méditerranée could demonstrate really useful because it permits them to keep the record of more than 1,000 neurons per mouse.
That is a big progress over the use of rooted electrodes to try and measure brain action in rodents, while still cooperative for research, that method can only monitor around a hundred neurons at once.
Memory is a critical tool for mice and humans both, and the hunt to study how it works still continues.