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Scientists improve working memory by extending brain signals

A study conducted by researchers at the Faculty of Medicine at New York University found that one could improve short-term memory by artificially extending neural signals called sharp waveforms. This discovery could lead to new treatments for memory disorders, including Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers focused on short-term memory

Sebastian Kaulitzki | Shutterstock

The study focuses on working memory, in charge of keeping temporary information to use to accomplish a task, for example, by memorizing routes and directions around a new location to use later in the day, or by calling back numbers to write a phone number. .

The team found that by lengthening acute wave waves (local oscillatory patterns of the hippocampus and surrounding brain regions involved in memory consolidation) in the rat, they were 10 to 15% better able to remember of the road traveled treatment of sugar water.

Sharp ripples are created when nerve cells send electrical pulses to organize memories. As the study explains, "Sharp wave ripples (SPW-R) in the hippocampus are considered a key mechanism for memory consolidation and action planning" .

During the experiment, the Labyrinth Road developed by the researchers for the rats was modified so that the rats had to use the opposite route to the one they had previously borrowed to get the reward. To do this, the rats had to use their short term memory in order to remember not to repeat the same path in order to find sweet water.

Researchers used multisite electrophysiological recordings with optogenic activation of pyramidal neurons in the hippocampus, and artificially elongated sharp wave waves to evaluate its impact on short-term memory performance in rats.

To prolong the ripples of the net waves, hippocampus cells have been designed to include light-sensitive channels. By shining the light through small glass fibers, the neurons were successfully activated and added more neurons to the natural sequence.

It was discovered that not only did the extension of the acute wave ripples improve short – term memory performance, but that it also used slower – triggering neurons in their sequences. The research team had previously discovered that slow-triggering neurons more easily change their properties than fast-triggering neurons as new information is learned.

György Buzsáki, MD, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences and Physiology of the Medical School of New York University (USA), presented the importance of the new study published in the Science the 14thth from June 2019.

Our study is the first in our field to have artificially altered intrinsic neuronal trigger patterns in the brain region, called the hippocampus, which has increased learning ability, instead of interfering with previous attempts. .

After decades of study, we have finally understood the mammalian brain well enough to modify some of its mechanisms, which could guide the design of future treatments for memory-related diseases. "

Alzheimer's disease is a disease characterized by short-term memory loss, but research on the treatment or prevention of the disease has not yet led to a significant advance.

The authors of the study conclude:

"Our results demonstrate that a single measurement, such as the duration of SPW-R, can provide valuable insights into the underlying neural calculations. Learning and correct recall in spatial memory tasks have been associated with extended SPW-Rs. "

The first author of the study, Antonio Fernandez-Ruiz, PhD in the Buzsaki laboratory, explained the next steps that the research team will undertake to advance their discovery.

Our next step will be to understand how non-invasive waves can extend the net ripples, which, if we did, would have implications for the treatment of memory disorders. "


The long-lasting hippocampal ripple improves memory. (2019). Science. DOI: 10.1126 / science.aax0758.

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