MRI Scans Reveal How the Brain Protects Memories

Summary: A new MRI study reveals the neocortex and hippocampus are involved in mediating memory interference.

Source: University of Oxford.

Researchers from the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at the University of Oxford have shed light on the exact neural mechanisms that make precise memory recall possible.

The research team gave participants memory tasks to perform in the MRI scanner. Over two days participants learned two overlapping but context-dependent memories. The researchers then measured interference between the two memories on the third day in the scanner.

The findings suggest that at least two different brain regions are involved in mediating memory interference. First, the hippocampus (part of the brain involved in higher-order brain functions) separates overlapping memories using contextual-information.

Second, halfway through the scan, the researchers used brain stimulation to reduce the concentration of neocortical GABA (a neurotransmitter (chemical) in the brain that reduces activity in other neurons, regulating communication between brain cells). The researchers found that neocortical memory interference increased in proportion to the reduction in GABA. This shows that, in addition to the hippocampus, neocortical inhibition prevents unwanted co-activation between overlapping memories.

brain scan

The findings suggest that at least two different brain regions are involved in mediating memory interference. First, the hippocampus (part of the brain involved in higher-order brain functions) separates overlapping memories using contextual-information.

Dr Helen Barron, who led the research, said: ‘Our brains have the incredible ability to remember many different examples of similar events in our daily lives, like our commute to work. We can distinguish between individual days and remember vital details such as where we parked our bike each day.

‘Understanding how we lay down overlapping memories and later recall individual events is vital for helping develop treatments for conditions such as dementia and schizophrenia.’

Collaborators at the University of Birmingham are now planning to extend this research to patients with schizophrenia and autism. They will scan volunteers to find out more about the mechanisms that protect against memory interference, what happens when they go wrong, and how we might intervene to help in patient populations.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: University of Oxford
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “The Hippocampus and Neocortical Inhibitory Engrams Protect against Memory Interference” by Renée S. Koolschijn, Uzay E. Emir, Alexandros C. Pantelides, Hamed Nili, Timothy E. J. Behrens, and Helen C. Barron in Neuron. Published January 30 2019.
doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2018.11.042

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Oxford”MRI Scans Reveal How the Brain Protects Memories.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 31 February 2019.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/mri-brain-memory-10674/>.
University of Oxford(2019, February 31). MRI Scans Reveal How the Brain Protects Memories. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 31, 2019 from http://neurosciencenews.com/mri-brain-memory-10674/
University of Oxford”MRI Scans Reveal How the Brain Protects Memories.” http://neurosciencenews.com/mri-brain-memory-10674/ (accessed February 31, 2019).

Abstract

The Hippocampus and Neocortical Inhibitory Engrams Protect against Memory Interference

Our experiences often overlap with each other, yet we are able to selectively recall individual memories to guide decisions and future actions. The neural mechanisms that support such precise memory recall remain unclear. Here, using ultra-high field 7T MRI we reveal two distinct mechanisms that protect memories from interference. The first mechanism involves the hippocampus, where the blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal predicts behavioral measures of memory interference, and representations of context-dependent memories are pattern separated according to their relational overlap. The second mechanism involves neocortical inhibition. When we reduce the concentration of neocortical GABA using trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), neocortical memory interference increases in proportion to the reduction in GABA, which in turn predicts behavioral performance. These findings suggest that memory interference is mediated by both the hippocampus and neocortex, where the hippocampus separates overlapping but context-dependent memories using relational information, and neocortical inhibition prevents unwanted co-activation between overlapping memories.

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