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Study demonstrates how memory can be preserved -- and forgetting prevented
Date:7/8/2011

BOSTON As any student who's had to study for multiple exams can tell you, trying to learn two different sets of facts one after another is challenging. As you study for the physics exam, almost inevitably some of the information for the history exam is forgotten. It's been widely believed that this interference between memories develops because the brain simply doesn't have the capacity necessary to process both memories in quick succession. But is this truly the case?

A new study by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) suggests that specific brain areas actively orchestrate competition between memories, and that by disrupting targeted brain areas through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), you can preserve memory -- and prevent forgetting.

The findings are described in the June 26 Advance On-line issue of Nature Neuroscience.

"For the last 100 years, it has been appreciated that trying to learn facts and skills in quick succession can be a frustrating exercise," explains Edwin Robertson, MD, DPhil, an Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and BIDMC. "Because no sooner has a new memory been acquired than its retention is jeopardized by learning another fact or skill."

Robertson, together with BIDMC neurologist and coauthor Daniel Cohen, MD, studied a group of 120 college-age students who performed two concurrent memory tests. The first involved a finger-tapping motor skills task, the second a declarative memory task in which participants memorized a series of words. (Half of the group performed the tasks in this order, while a second group learned these same two tasks in reverse order.)

"The study subjects performed these back-to-back exercises in the morning," he explains. "They then returned 12 hours later and re-performed the tests. As predicted, their recall for either the word list or the motor-skill task had decreased when they were re-tested."

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Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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