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Jennifer Aniston Neurons: Study Reveals How New Memories Are Formed


Scientists have gained a new understanding of how memories are formed in the brain. A recent study shows that individual neurons in a region of the brain called the medial temporal lobe play a central role in forming swift memories of everyday events.

The study involved 14 volunteers who were asked to view pictures of people while researchers recorded the activity of their brain cells. The scientists spotted a “dramatic” difference in nerve activity when a participant learned a link between a place and a person, reports BBC. The research was published in the journal Neuron.

Nearly ten years ago a team of scientists, including Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, discovered a “Jennifer Aniston” neuron that fired whenever a person viewed photos of the actress.

Building on this theory, Professor Quiroga, together with Dr. Matias Ison at the University of Leicester and scientists from the University of California, took the research one step further to see if the same cells play a role in creating new memories.

According to The New York Times, the volunteers were shown photos of celebrities, such as Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, and Clint Eastwood. Then the participants were shown images of the same people against familiar landscapes, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House, and the Eiffel Tower. The same neurons that fired for the pictures of the actors also fired when those images were associated with the different backdrops.

The researchers were able to watch the participants’ neurons as they recorded a new memory, not just of the actors, but also of the actors at specific places. And according to Dr. Ison, “these changes occurred at the exact moment of learning.”

This is the first study to look at how a single neuron correlates learning of new contextual associations in the human brain. The astonishing fact was that these changes were dramatic, in the sense of neurons changing from being very silent to firing a lot and that these changes occurred at the exact moment of learning.

This research could help scientists better understand how the brain stores new memories, according to Dr. Ison.

In another unrelated study, researchers have discovered that napping increases learning and improves memory function.

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