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

Engineering, said in a university news release. "The rats still showed that they knew 'when you press left first, then press right next time' . . . and they still knew in general to press levers for water, but they could only remember whether they had pressed left or right for five to 10 seconds."

In the experiment, the "neural prosthesis" devised by the scientists replaced circuitry in the brain that no longer functions properly. That could eventually have implications for helping people afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, stroke or other brain injuries to recover lost function, the researchers explained.

"Obviously, memory disorders are a hallmark of a number of different disorders of the nervous system, including Alzheimer's, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury," said another expert, Dr. Ashesh Mehta, director of epilepsy surgery at North Shore-LIJ Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Institute in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

"So there's lots to be said if we could figure out the mechanism by which memory occurs," Mehta added. And even though this study was done in animals, "the basic architecture of the hippocampus is preserved in humans," he said.

The researchers next hope to duplicate the findings in monkeys.

Schiff said he thought such a device would potentially work better in patients whose loss of oxygen -- from conditions such as cardiac arrest -- had left them with brain injuries that would not progress, unlike Alzheimer's.

"Alzheimer's disease has its own underlying biology," he said. "It knocks out cells in lots and lots of places in an inexorable way. But there are brain injuries where cells are closer to the experimental design here."

More information

Bryn Mawr College has more information about the hippocampus.

SOURCES: Nicholas Schiff, M.D., associate professor, neurology and neuroscience, Weill Corne
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