Monday, February 13, 2006

Rat Brain Replay And Memory

The Grave Digger
According to the results of a new study, a rat at the end of a track replays his recent route in the brain cells of the hippocampus. David Foster and Matthew Wilson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology became interested in waking brain activity of rats, and implanted devices to capture neuron firing in the hippocampuses of four rats.

[...T]hey let the animals run up and down a track with food at each end. Upon reaching the end of the track, the rats paused to eat, groom or just be still.

But their hippocampus cells were in a frenzy of activity. These cells are known to play a role in the formation of memories in rats and primates, including humans. By measuring the amount and location of the hippocampus cell firing, the researchers were able to determine that the neurons fired in the exact reverse order of the firing that occurred when the rat scurried from one end of the track to the other.

In essence, the rats' brains replayed the recent route, possibly committing it to memory. Such activity did not occur when the animals simply rested outside the track or when they were in a more familiar environment. "Reverse replay in the hippocampus might have a critical role in support of learning," the researchers conclude in their paper detailingthe findings, published online yesterday by Nature.

Link. The researches believe that reply allows for learning about recent events, and "understanding this replay is likely to be critical to understanding how animals learn from
experience."

My hope is that the researchers can investigate further so that we can utilize their abilities to the fullest. Does the rat brain reply have the yellow lines, arrows, and circles like on sports highlights? What about slow motion? Will rats ever learn to compete with our current football reporting technology? If so, will their memories be reliable enough for use in trivia competitions?

Indexed by tags rats, brains, memory, science, hippocampus, MIT.

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