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Brain And Memory: Our Neurons Tell Us How We Can Trust What We Remember

First Posted: Jun 13, 2015 02:01 PM EDT
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Thank the knowledge of our neurons for letting us know if certain vague memories can indeed be trusted.

New findings published in the journal Nature Neuroscience examine just how we can trust certain memories over other potentially false ones. Of course, many decisions we make are ultimately influenced by our memories and the confidence we associate with them. But why?

A Cedars-Sinai study identified a unique set of neurons in the medial temporal lobe in which memories and memory-based decisions are processed. Our activity of neurons is ultimately indicative of the confidence through which memory is achieved. With their work, the researchers said they hope to look for potential new treatments for amnesia.

Twenty-eight patients with epilepsy were involved in the study, all of whom had entered the hospital for diagnostic procedures like implantation of deep-brain electrodes to better identify the root of seizure activity. From these tests, researchers identified the electrical activity of the brain while patients performed a memory test that involved identifying a sequence of images and rating them based on confidence in previously seeing them. This helped the researchers record the electrical activity of 1,049 individual nerve cells, showing distinct differences between two groups of neurons located in the brain's medial temporal region.

For one group, visually selective cells helped participants identify physical elements around them, including things like a cat, a tree or a house. However, these neurons only respond to stimuli if the individual has previously seen the designated object.

On the other hand, the other group consisted of memory selective cells that appear in both the retrieval and confidence of certain memories. From there, the group breaks off into two subgroups based on familiarity neurons and novelty neurons.

"Our study shows for the first time that visually selective cells are not influenced by memory. In fact, they are functionally and, we believe, anatomically distinct from memory-selective cells," said Adam Mamelak, MD, senior author, professor of neurosurgery and director of functional neurosurgery in the Neurosurgery Department, in a news release. "Defining these differences is important because it may help us target one cell but not another. We currently have no treatment to offer for failing memory, but as treatments are developed, we will want to be extremely selective in which neurons are stimulated and which are not."

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