Your hippocampus is an area of your brain that plays a crucial role in memory (short term) and spatial orientation. One stark example of the importance of the hippocampus is revealed in Alzheimer’s patients, who, suffering from hippocampal lesions, lose their memory. It is also a part of your limbic system, which means it’s linked to your emotions, too. Researchers at the University of Southern California recently made an important health breakthrough in their study of the hippocampus. By using an electronic system to duplicate neural signals linked to memory and turn rats’ memories on and off at will. Essentially, they were able to restore brain function in rats even when they had been drugged to forget!
Building on prior research on the hippocampus, the researchers conducted an experiment on 45 rats. The rats first learned a task by pressing one lever instead of another to receive a reward. The researchers then used embedded electrical probes in the rats’ brains to record changes in brain activity. Specifically, they were looking between the two major regions of the hippocampus. The hippocampus converts short-term memory to long-term memory during the learning process.
Now here’s where the study gets interesting: the researchers then used drugs to block normal neural interactions between the two regions of the hippocampus. This resulted in the previously trained rats being no longer able to display the long-term learned behavior. However, as soon as the team activated an electronic device that was programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function of the hippocampus’ two major regions, the long-term memory returned. In essence, the researchers flipped a “switch” on in the hippocampus and the rats remembered. When they flipped the switch off, the rats forgot.
So, how might this health discovery benefit you? In the experiment, the device created by the scientists replaced circuitry in the brain that no longer functioned properly. This technique could eventually have implications in helping people afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or other brain injuries recover. Lost memory and lost brain function could potentially be restored. Although this health e-letter can’t yet tell you the exact mechanism by which memory occurs, the scientists hope that discovery can be made soon.
In the meantime, here is some health advice: eat these five top foods for boosting brain health:
1. Fatty fish