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MIT Scientists Restore Memories Lost To Amnesia

Lost Memories

Researchers at MIT have managed to successfully restore the lost memories of amnesia stricken mice — a finding which will surely factor into the debate on whether such memories are permanently erased or merely out of reach.

In the study, which was published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers conducted a series of experiments employing the latest in light-based brain tracking techniques and found that with certain forms of amnesia, memories aren’t lost, they’re potentially retrievable.

While the experiments were based on mice, TIME notes in a report that they could have real implications for humans as well.

The researchers used optogenetics — a technique which employs an engineered virus to select specific neurons and introduce a special protein — to induce blue light sensitivity in the brain cells of mice. In doing so, the researchers effectively gained control of their brains, allowing them to flick neurons on and off at will.

In one instance of experimentation, the researchers created a bad memory for the mice by repeatedly shocking them in a particular enclosure. They then isolated the neurons which were stimulated when the mice relived the memory and made them sensitive to light in a new match of mice prior to shocking them in the same fashion.

The mice were then injected with anisomycin, a drug which interferes with memory formation and induces symptoms similar to someone with retrograde amnesia, to remove their memories. The mice, who were then unafraid of entering the shock chamber, would suddenly exhibit fear when the blue light was used to activate the neurons containing the repressed memory.

In conclusion, the study’s lead author and director of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, Susumu Tonegawa, indicated in a statement that with retrograde amnesia, “past memories may not be erased, but could simply be lost and inaccessible for recall,” but all the same, the study’s findings “provide striking insight into the fleeting nature of memories, and will stimulate future research on the biology of memory and its clinical restoration.”

These findings provide striking insight into the fleeting nature of memories, and will stimulate future research on the biology of memory and its clinical restoration.

While the experiments suggest lost memories might lurk somewhere in the brain, their implications for human amnesia patients might not be here anytime soon, as study co-author and MIT neuroscientist Tomas Ryan told The Verge, “It’s very difficult to be doing this in humans, partly for the ethical reasons — the work is invasive — but also because we tag the memories in the brain before they’re learned,” which means researchers would have to be present while a memory was formed in order for them to help restore it.

In an unrelated study covered here at Immortal News, researchers at Duke University successfully increased the size of a mouse brain by injecting the embryo with human DNA.

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