Scientists May Have Found A Way to Locate Lost Memories

The conventional wisdom regarding memory-loss diseases such as amnesia and Alzheimer’s has long been that all affected memories are erased or destroyed.

But a new study from MIT is suggesting a possible alternative: that while the ability to access memories may vanish, the memories themselves may still be fully intact and encoded within the brain.

“If you ask a neuroscientist what we know about memory, most people will say we have these pathways, or traces, that are formed in the brain, and these are somehow required for us to recall information accurately,” MIT researcher and study co-author Dheeray Roy told Yahoo Canada.

“In cases of amnesia, a lot of people would believe these traces actually are non-existent, and that’s the underlying cause of the disease. Our study came in, I think, to ask whether amnesia truly is a storage-type issue, or whether some memories do persist and there is just no way to access them – and can we do something about it?”

A technology called optogenetics is enabling researchers to implant memories in rodents, create amnesia, and revive the memory using precisely-focused microbeams of light, Roy said.

“In our study, we tagged or engineered these memory engram cells, which we believe participate, or are necessary for, the formation and retrieval of a stable memory,” Roy explained.

A mouse or rat with amnesia is placed in a setting where it suffered a frightening experience it can no longer remember. With the activation of the light, the memory returns.

“Animals, like humans, have a very robust response when they don’t like something,” Roy said.

“They quickly display avoidance behavior. This becomes a way of testing specific memories.”

And it’s not a fluke, either.

“It’s amazing how robust the response is, and how long it lasts – up to one year,” Roy said.

The findings are very new. Roy freely concedes it will take more than this for many in the field to accept and embrace the findings. And while the MIT research clearly singled out amnesia, any breakthrough in memory science will always raise hopes of a possible imminent treatment or cure for the ever-increasing global epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Clausewitz

    Google the McMartin School Scandal to see how implanted memories are easy to engineer. The last thing we need are “experts” and government officials screwing with our minds.

    • Alain

      I suggest they already do, but we don’t need more.

  • Everyone Else

    One more unethical scientist trying to oversell his crap research to one more gullible journalist writing for one more moronic audience.

    “A mouse or rat with amnesia is placed in a setting where it suffered a frightening experience it can no longer remember. With the activation of the light, the memory returns. … They quickly display avoidance behavior. This becomes a way of testing specific memories.”

    Nobody has a clue what’s going on in the mind of the rat. The only thing this experiment determined is that the “avoidance behavior” returned. Maybe this happened because of the light flash itself, or maybe because of some kind of conditioned response, or maybe the rats weren’t really given amnesia – as if that could be doled out in any kind of precise way.

    “It’s amazing how robust the response is, and how long it lasts – up to one year,” Roy said.

    Yeah, it’s amazing that the rats remembered the reminder (innocuous flash of light) longer than they remembered the original trauma that scared them.

    It’s amazing that our society is so stoopid about science.

    • Do you think there is any validity in the theories of the human brain and proteins?

      • Everyone Else

        I’m not sure what theory you refer to, but I’ll be happy to opine if you point me in the right direction.

          • Everyone Else

            Like shooting fish in a barrel.

            Here’s the opening sentence: “Certain proteins may slow the devastating memory loss caused by Alzheimer’s disease …”

            Here’s the 3-part formula for writing a medical article like the perfect example you linked.

            1. Our drug/experiment may cure death.

            2. Gobbledygook.

            3. If our double-blind Bayesian gobbledygook cures death, then you may not have to die.

            Always watch out for the magic word “may”.

            (Reading this comment may give you an erection lasting longer than four hours. I’m not saying it will, but for all we know it may.)

          • Yes, I’m well aware of the caution some writers use in their articles.

            But I asked you what you thought about this theory, not how someone wrote about it.

          • Everyone Else

            It’s not so much caution used by science writers, as sleight-of-hand used by researchers aggrandizing results in the battle for funding. Getting published in a pop-science journal can be just as good as getting published in a peer-reviewed journal for extracting money from funding organizations, so scientists have become quite tricky at phrasing deniable optimism.

            The researcher (Willette) cited in this story posits at least a half-dozen unproved theories. The problem with theories is they usually don’t pan out. The history of science, and especially medical science, is full of plausible theories that didn’t pan out.

            The reason science works is because of the scientific method, which doesn’t care how plausible the theory, only that results get replicated. I can piss on Willette’s multiple unproved theories all I want, but if he gets a good experimental result that gets replicated by another lab then he earns the right to piss all over my criticism of him.

            Until he finds medical benefit that gets replicated elsewhere I wouldn’t risk my hope on his research (and no, I don’t think hope is medically beneficial – that’s another plausible theory that got repudiated by data).

          • And that is why peer-editing science journals matters.

            Gracias.

  • BillyHW

    Maybe we can use this technology to help Hilary find all those missing emails?