Science Makes A New Breakthrough in Altering the Brain’s Memory


When it comes to the dangers of rewiring the human brain, all you have to do is scan Netflix to find a bevy of sci-fi movies outlining the diabolical possibilities. Still, this isn’t stopping modern science from investigating new ways to control the memories we have. For now the experimentation is limited to animals, but it’s almost inevitable that one day scientists may be manipulating the thoughts we have – for good or worse.

To understand how memory manipulation might work, it’s important to first understand how the brain makes a memory. A memory is stored in neurons, millions of tree branch-like nerve cells in the brain that carry information in the form of electrical signals. When an electrical signal (or memory) carries information and reaches the end of a neuron, it triggers the release of a chemical called a neurotransmitter, this floats over the synapse and lands on the receiving end of another neuron.

In June a team of scientists had discovered a way to watch this process from in the brains of mice and zebrafish in real-time. The ability to watch this actually happen provides a much clearer window for the possibility of scientists to delete and modify a memory. The team was able to create a protein that sticks to the portion of a neuron responsible for absorbing the neurotransmitter. They then used a green fluorescent protein from jellyfish and stuck that onto the other end of their protein. With the implanted glowing proteins in the mice and zebrafish brains, the scientists could look through a microscope at the proteins collected around the receptors.


Basically, the scientists are able to teach the mice skills and watch as the skills form in the mouse’s brain. Deleting a memory would involve adding a protein made in the brain to the same protein made by the scientist.

Adding proteins to the brain and altering its electrical signals is just one approach to brain manipulation though. A different group of scientists are working on another approach by looking at the nervous system. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Germany have mapped out the neurons from the slice of a dead mouse’s eye. Now, what does this mean exactly? In short, it might be one step towards restoring sight, and if applied to the brain, altering memory. Using a 3D microscope, the process works as a circuit diagram and allows scientist to manipulate which neurons go where.

While Hollywood often paints the picture of brain manipulation turning us into government controlled slaves and storylines of world terrorism, there’s always a flip-side to the coin. The process could help rebuild lives, reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Via Theverge

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