Thursday, March 22, 2012
Scripps Research Institute scientists and their colleagues have successfully harnessed neurons in mouse brains, which allowed them to at least partially control a specific memory, Scripps announced today.
Researchers hoped such work eventually could lead to a better understanding of how memories form in the brain and possibly ways to weaken harmful thoughts for those with conditions such as schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder, according to Scripps.
"Understanding all this will help us understand what goes wrong in situations where you have inappropriate perceptions. It can also tell us where the brain changes with learning," said Mark Mayford, a Scripps Research neuroscientist who led the study.
In the study, researchers set out to manipulate specific memories by inserting two genes into mice, one of which produced receptors that could be chemically triggered to activate a neuron. The gene was then tied to a natural one that turns on only in active neurons, such as those involved in the formation or recollection of a memory, according to Scripps.
Mayford said once the processes were better understood, researchers might eventually target the perception process through drugs to treat certain conditions such as schizophrenia, in which patients' brains produce false perceptions.
Mayford, along with Aleena Garner, Sang Youl Hwang and Karsten Baumgaertel from Scripps Research, David Rowland and Cliff Kentros from the University of Oregon, Eugene and Bryan Roth from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill authored the paper "Generation of a Synthetic Memory Trace," which will appear in Friday's issue of the journal Science.