Brain Implant Restores Memories in Rats by Recording & Playing Them Back

By Valerie Ross | June 20, 2011 3:03 pm

What’s the News: Scientists have built a brain implant that can restore lost memories and reinforce new ones. The implant, tested in a recent study in rats, brings back a memory by recording and replaying the electrical activity of neurons in a part of the hippocampus, the brain’s long-term memory center. While the device is far from ready for use in humans, it’s an important step toward memory-boosting implants that could one day help patients who have developed dementia or suffered a stroke.

How the Heck:

  • The rats first practiced a simple memory task: To get a refreshing drink of water, hit one lever in a cage, then—after a short distraction—hit the other. They had to remember which lever they’d already pushed to know which one to push the second time,.
  • As the rats did this memory task, an array of electrodes recorded signals between two subregions of the hippocampus, called CA1 and CA3, which are involved in storing new information in long-term memory.
  • The researchers then gave the rats a drug that kept CA1 and CA3 from communicating. The rats still knew the general rules of the task—press one lever then the other, get water—but couldn’t remember which lever they’d already pressed.
  • When the scientists played back the neural signals from CA1 they’d recorded earlier, however, the rats again remembered which lever they had hit, and pressed the other one.
  • When researchers played back the signals in rats not on the drug—amplifying the regular signals from CA1—the rats made fewer mistakes and remembered which lever they’d pressed for longer.

What’s the Context:

  • This implant operates on the same principles as other neural prosthetics, communicating with the nervous system using electrical signals. Instead of sending signals from the brain to control a prosthetic arm or a computer cursor, however, this system sends the signals to another part of the brain.

The Future Holds:

  • The researchers plan to test the implant in primates soon.
  • The ultimate goal is to develop memory-boosting implants for human patients—but that’s a far more complicated task than simply scaling up the electrode array used in rats. Our memories are far more detailed than the simple lever-pressing task, meaning recording and replaying them—or even figuring out how to—wouldn’t be as easy. Plus, this technique relies on playing back neural signals that have already been recorded; in patients who already have severe memory deficits, that memory trace might be too weak to record.

Reference: Theodore W Berger, Robert E Hampson, Dong Song, Anushka Goonawardena, Vasilis Z Marmarelis, & Sam A Deadwyler. “A cortical neural prosthesis for restoring and enhancing memory.” Journal of Neural Engineering, June 15, 2011. DOI:10.1088/1741-2560/8/4/046017

Image: Flickr / asplosh

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • Alix

    Would like to know what would happen if they recorded the signals from one rat and played them back into another rat’s brain. Could a rat remember an experience he did not live that belongs to another entity? This is amazing!
    Maybe the future holds “instant learning” where they can record a physics lesson from a professor’s brain and play it back into a student’s brain…

  • Sirius

    A Fascist Regime exist guilty of carnying out Experiments on Humans – using brain implants- to interfere with the mind- to mind control follow – Twitter as @Siriushc / Bizeso as Hiten / prefspot as Hiten Chudasama & read my pdf files and blogs –

  • raacerx

    i want one, give me a ticket to stand in line, if this could work on humans i would pay almost anything to get one unless it could fry my brain

  • philld

    Seems like this could be the beginning of the matrix… “I know kungfu, woah…”

  • anon

    I will beat you to the finish line.

  • TestKing

    Immortality for the rich. Record all my memories and playback into a new born for a another life!

  • Randal

    Although the idea of ‘brain implants’ to restore memory functions is a very exciting one, I’m afraid I will have missed out on it during my own lifetime. But for future generations, this could be amazing. Of course, I’m not sure if the FDA would ever approve it. Interesting article. Thanks.

  • PhlebotomyGuy

    Just think how the big drug and natural supplement companies must be rooting against the failure of this implant device. They stand to lose quite a bit if something starts invading their memory loss market.

  • Roman

    Sirius needs to learn how to spell.

    “rooting against the failure”, or is it “rooting for the failure”, “Phleb'”?


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