Memory Implant Records And Plays Back

A brain implant capable of recording and playing back the electrical activity of neurons has been constructed by researchers from USC and Wake Forest University.

A primary objective in developing a neural prosthesis is to replace neural circuitry in the brain that no longer functions appropriately. Such a goal requires artificial reconstruction of neuron-to-neuron connections in a way that can be recognized by the remaining normal circuitry, and that promotes appropriate interaction. In this study, the application of a specially designed neural prosthesis using a multi-input/multi-output (MIMO) nonlinear model is demonstrated by using trains of electrical stimulation pulses to substitute for MIMO model derived ensemble firing patterns...

These integrated experimental-modeling studies show for the first time that, with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time diagnosis and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive, mnemonic processes.
(A cortical neural prosthesis for restoring and enhancing memory)

Here's a summary of the basic experiment:

  • 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.
    (Discover Magazine)

Fans of sf writer Lois McMaster Bujold recall the memory biochip mentioned in her 1986 novel Shards of Honor, which allowed the user to play back memories at will.

Thanks to an anonymous reader for writing in with the story and the reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/21/2011)

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