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JHU researcher discovers brain cells have 'memory'
Date:4/2/2009

As we look at the world around us, images flicker into our brains like so many disparate pixels on a computer screen that change every time our eyes move, which is several times a second. Yet we don't perceive the world as a constantly flashing computer display.

Why not?

Neuroscientists at The Johns Hopkins University think that part of the answer lies in a special region of the brain's visual cortex which is in charge of distinguishing between background and foreground images. Writing in a recent issue of the journal Neuron, the team demonstrates that nerve cells in this region (called V2) are able to "grab onto" figure-ground information from visual images for several seconds, even after the images themselves are removed from our sight.

"Recent studies have hotly debated whether the visual system uses a buffer to store image information and if so, the duration of that storage," said Rudiger von der Heydt, a professor in Johns Hopkins' Zanvyl Krieger Mind-Brain Institute, and co-author on the paper. "We found that the answer is 'yes,' the brain in fact stores the last image seen for up to two seconds."

The image that the brain grabs and holds onto momentarily is not detailed; it's more like a rough sketch of the layout of objects in the scene, von der Heydt explains. This may elucidate, at least in part, how the brain creates for us a stable visual world when the information coming in through our eyes changes at a rapid-fire pace: up to four times in a single second.

The study was based on recordings of activity in nerve cells in the V2 region of the brains of macaques, whose visual systems closely resemble that of humans. Located at the very back of the brain, V2 is roughly the size of a wristwatch strap.

The macaques were rewarded for watching a screen onto which various images were presented as the researchers recorded the animals' brain nerve
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Contact: Lisa De Nike
Lde@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
Source:Eurekalert  

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