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

cells' response. Previous experiments have shown that the nerve cells in V2 code for elementary features such as pieces of contour and patches of color. What is characteristic of V2, though, is that it codes these features with reference to objects. A vertical line, for instance, is coded either as the contour of an object on the left or as a contour of an object on the right. In this study, the researchers presented sequences of images consisting of a briefly-flashed square followed by a vertical line. They then compared the nerve cells' responses to the line when it was preceded by a square on the left and when it was preceded by a square on the right. The recordings revealed that the V2 cells remember the side on which the square had been presented, meaning that the flashing square set up a representation in the brain that persisted even after the image of the square was extinguished.

Von der Heydt said that discovering memory in this region was quite a surprise because the usual understanding is that neurons in the visual cortex simply respond to visual stimulation, but do not have a memory of their own.

Though this research is only a small piece of the "how people see and process images" puzzle, it's important, according to von der Heydt.

"We are trying to understand how the brain represents the changing visual scene and knows what is where at any given moment," von der Heydt said. "How does it delineate the contours of objects and how does it remember which contours belong to each object in a stream of multiple images? These are important and interesting questions whose answer may someday have very practical implications. For instance, how we function under conditions that strain our ability to process all relevant information - whether it be driving in city traffic, surveying a large crowd to find someone, or something else, may depend in large part on what kind of short-term memor
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Contact: Lisa De Nike
Lde@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
Source:Eurekalert  

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