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Unlocking the mysteries of memory
Date:12/4/2008

Stop and think for a moment. What do you remember about your breakfast this morning? One part of your brain will recall the smell of coffee brewing, while another will remember your partner's smile while walking out the door. How does the brain weave together these fragments, and how does it bring them back to conscious life?

Researchers led by Prof. Itzhak Fried, a neurosurgeon at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, are proving scientifically what scientists have always suspected that the neurons excited during an experience are the same as those excited when we remember that experience. This finding, reported in the prestigious journal Science in October, gives researchers a clearer picture of how memory recall works and has important implications for understanding dementias such as Alzheimer's, in which fragments of the memory puzzle seem to disintegrate over time.

A Rare Glimpse Inside Your Brain

"This is a rare opportunity to see how neurons, the basic units of cognition, work during the act of recall," says Prof. Fried from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), where he is also a full professor. "It's unique because we're able to look at single cells in the brain when people spontaneously retrieve something from inside their memory without any cue from outside."

The research was challenging and could only be done on human subjects ― other animals lack the ability to verbalize their memories. "Taking a look at individual neurons can only be obtained under special circumstances," he says. "This is what we've managed to achieve."

Monitoring the subjects' brain activity as electrodes recorded individual neurons, Prof. Fried and his Israeli colleagues, were effectively able to "see" real human memory recall in action, in real time. This is unprecedented, say his peers, who laud this research as "foundational."

Where We Lose Our Minds

Prof. Fri
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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