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New Study Sheds Light On How Memory Works

Remembering a computer password or where you put your keys might seem like a simple—if sometimes frustrating—task, but the brain’s networks driving such actions are complex. New research from Cedars-Sinai offers a detailed understanding of the memory pathways that neurons take to retrieve information.

This discovery, published in Science, may aid development of future treatments for memory disorders.

In the study, led by Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, the Board of Governors Chair in Neurosciences, participants alternated between two tasks. One involved categorizing images such as human and monkey faces, fruits and cars. The other required identifying new or familiar images. As the pictures flashed, investigators monitored the activity of single neurons in the subjects’ brains using small electrodes previously implanted for locating the origin of epileptic seizures.

As patients performed the memory task, specific neurons in the decisionmaking part of the brain (the medial frontal cortex) coordinated their activity with neurons in the section of the brain involved in learning and memory (the hippocampus). But the memory pathways forged by this connection became inactive when subjects switched to the categorization task.

"This study shows that the pathways are selectively switched on, depending on when a person needs to recall that specific information," Rutishauser says.

The investigators are now studying whether the same mechanism is involved in switching between different types of memory retrieval. They are also exploring ways to strengthen these newly discovered memory pathways.

Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, the Board of Governors Chair in Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai

Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, the Board of Governors Chair in Neurosciences

"Our long-term goal is to enable the development of new treatments that combat the devastating effects of memory disorders."