Researchers from the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and its School of Medicine have completed a study that may help to better understand treatments and preventions for diseases affecting memory.
The study showed that the brain's encoding of episodic memories such as a past event or conversation occurs in the hippocampus in the central portion of the brain by certain sets of neurons, according to a press release.
“Scientists are interested in these issues not only because of their implications for models of memory, but also for health-related reasons,” John Wixted, the study's first author and distinguished professor in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego, said in the release. “For example, degeneration in this region of the brain is responsible for memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Researchers found study participants' individual episodic memories were encoded and represented by strong activity of less than 2.5 percent with usually nonoverlapping sets of hippocampal neurons, the release said. According to researchers, these findings help explain not being able to detect the process in previous research.
“If treatments and preventions are to be developed for memory problems, and for diseases that affect memory, it will be important to know how the brain accomplishes learning and memory: What brain structures are important for memory and what jobs do they do," Larry Squire, distinguished professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and psychology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said in a statement. "In our study, we found what would have been easily missed were it not for theoretical models of memory that had been developed earlier.”
The study was recently published in the PNAS Online Early Edition.