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MIT Researchers Say Light Alone Can Activate Specific Memories Of Brain

Whatever happened in your life till now, somehow your brain captures that. Neuroscientists call these traces memory engrams. Researchers of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say that using optogenetics to artificially reactivate memories could advance the study of neurodegenerative disorders. The direct reactivation of specific hippocampus neurons can lead to very specific memory recall. It is light that the researchers used.


MIT researchers used optogenetics to show that memories really do reside in very specific brain cells. That simply activates a tiny fraction of brain cells which can recall an entire memory. Optogenetics is a technique that combines optical and genetic methods to control specific events in specific cells. By using optogenetics to stimulate memory, the researchers came to know which brain cells in the hippocampus were active in a mouse that was exploring a new environment. Researchers activated the genes in brain cells with channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2). ChR2 is a light-activated protein that is used in optogenetics.

“We demonstrate that behavior based on high-level cognition, such as the expression of a specific memory, can be generated in a mammal by highly specific physical activation of a specific small subpopulation of brain cells, in this case by light,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at MIT and lead author of the study reported online today in the journal Nature. “This is the rigorously designed 21st-century test of Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield’s early-1900s accidental observation suggesting that mind is based on matter.”

“We wanted to artificially activate a memory without the usual required sensory experience, which provides experimental evidence that even ephemeral phenomena, such as personal memories, reside in the physical machinery of the brain,” says Steve Ramirez, a graduate student in Tonegawa’s lab.

Well seems like, the greatest scientist Einstein was right. Light has not only the ability to travel fast in a vacuum but it has so many hidden powers that we don’t know.

The researchers suggest that their method could advance the study of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders in future. To know more, just click here.

Source : MIT
Image Credit : Nikon Small World Gallery

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