Restoring memory, repairing damaged brains
In the experiment, the researchers had rats learn a task, pressing one lever rather than another to receive a reward. Using embedded electrical probes, the experimental research team recorded changes in the rat's brain activity between the two major internal divisions of the hippocampus, known as subregions CA3 and CA1. The experimenters then blocked the normal neural interactions between the two areas using pharmacological agents. The previously trained rats then no long displayed the long-term learned behavior. But long-term memory capability returned to the pharmacologically blocked rats when the team activated the electronic device programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function. Credit: USC Viterbi School of Engineering
Scientists have developed a way to turn memories on and off -- literally with the flip of a switch.
"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."
Long-term memory capability returned to the pharmacologically blocked rats when the team activated the electronic device programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function.
"These integrated experimental modeling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes," says the paper.
Next steps, according to Berger and Deadwyler, will be attempts to duplicate the rat results in primates (monkeys), with the aim of eventually creating prostheses that might help the human victims of Alzheimer's disease, stroke or injury recover function.
The paper is entitled "A Cortical Neural Prosthesis for Restoring and Enhancing Memory." Besides Deadwyler and Berger, the other authors are, from USC, BME Professor Vasilis Z. Marmarelis and Research Assistant Professor Dong Song, and from Wake Forest, Associate Professor Robert E. Hampson and Post-Doctoral Fellow Anushka Goonawardena.
Berger, who holds the David Packard Chair in Engineering, is the Director of the USC Center for Neural Engineering, Associate Director of the National Science Foundation Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Engineering Research Center, and a Fellow of the IEEE, the AAAS, and the AIMBE
More information: “A Cortical Neural Prosthesis for Restoring and Enhancing Memory.” (Berger et al 2011 J. Neural Eng. 8 046017)
Provided by University of Southern California (news : web)