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Scientists Turn Memory On, Off in Rats With Flip of Switch
Date:6/18/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 17 (HealthDay News) -- Fixing faulty memories may one day be as easy as flipping a switch, according to scientists who restored brain function in rats even when they had been drugged to forget.

Building on prior research on the brain area known as the hippocampus, which is associated with learning, researchers from University of Southern California and Wake Forest University used an electronic system to duplicate neural signals linked to memory and turn the rats' memories on and off at will.

"This actually looks like a real step . . . toward some future device that may be very real," said Dr. Nicholas Schiff, an associate professor of neurology and neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. "It's obviously early, but it looks that, in proof of concept, something like this could partially restore function in a hippocampus not completely damaged." Schiff was not involved in the study.

The study is published June 17 in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

In the experiment, 45 rats first learned a task by pressing one lever instead of another to receive a reward. The researchers used embedded electrical probes in the rats' brains to record changes in brain activity between the two major regions of the hippocampus, which converts short-term memory to long-term during the learning process.

When the researchers used drugs to block normal neural interactions between the two regions, the previously trained rats could no longer display the long-term learned behavior. However, the long-term memory returned when the team activated the electronic device, which was programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function of the hippocampus' two major regions.

"Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget," lead author Theodore Berger, a professor of biomedical engineering at USC's Viterbi School of
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