Individual neurons (nerve cells) appear to hold on to memory for a fleeting moment, according to a recent study. This information is contrary to what researchers have previously found. Popular thinking is that memories are created by brain cells work together to form connections.

“It’s more like RAM [random access memory] on a computer than memory stored on a disk,” said Don Cooper, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “The memory on the disk is more permanent and you can go back and access the same information repeatedly. RAM memory is rewritable temporary storage that allows multitasking.”

The research, published in the journal Natural Neuroscience, found that permanent memories are stored when nerve cells in the brain reorganize and strengthen the connections with one another. “But this process takes minutes to hours to turn on and off and is too slow to buffer, or temporarily hold, rapidly incoming information,” according to a statement from the university.

The discovery may also lead to an improved understanding of attention disorders, stress-related memory loss, and addictions.

The study found that rapid-fire inputs last for less than a second. They initiate a cellular memory process in single cells lasting as long as minute. The process is called “metabotropic glutamate transmission,” and researchers were able to identify a specific metabotropic glutamate receptor in mice, called mGluR5, that starts a ‘signaling cascade’ using calcium when turned on to hold a memory trace. This rapid process happens inside individual cells for a very short time. In the case of long-term memory, protein is used to form a slow reorganization between cells in a network in order to form a permanent memory .

Researchers used extremely small (nanoscale) electrodes on the mice to examine the brain cells in order to measure the memory formation process. Mice brains are believed to function much the same as human brains, and researchers believe the results could lead to a better understand of how our brains store rapidly changing information.

These short-term, one-cell memories are the most sensitive to disruptions, and according to Cooper the process is similar to what casinos do when they offer free drinks to gamblers. They know that memory is disrupted by the insertion of alcohol and noisy backgrounds, so it makes it more difficult to count cards.

Cooper’s team next wants to develop genetic tools and drugs in order to influence and expand memory capacity to help those prone to addictions to make more intelligent choices.

“If we can identify and manipulate the molecular components of memory, we can develop drugs that boost the ability to maintain this memory trace to hopefully allow a person to complete tasks without being distracted,” Cooper said. “For the person addicted to drugs, we could strengthen this part of the brain involved with decision-making, allowing them to ignore impulses and weigh negative consequences of their behavior before they abuse drugs.”

This is RonWhite. I am a two-time USA Memory Champion, memory training expert, and memory keynote speaker. I am pleased to be able to pass this information along to you.



Live Science – Single Brain Cell Can Hold Memory: