Can Memory, Once Lost, Be Restored? Maybe.

The scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of Southern California (USC) are doing some exciting work. They’ve demonstrated the first successful use of a neural prosthetic device to recall specific memories. The groundbreaking research showed the successful implementation of a prosthetic system using a person’s own memory patterns to facilitate the brain’s ability to encode and recall memory. Their findings appear online in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.

The researchers built a model of processes that assist the hippocampus in helping people remember specific information. When the brain tries to store or recall information, groups of cells work together in neural ensembles that activate so that the information is stored or recalled. Using recordings of the activity of these brain cells, researchers created a memory decoding model (MDM), enabling them to decode what neural activity stored different pieces of specific information. They used this decrypted neural activity to create a pattern or code, which they used to apply neurostimulation to the hippocampus when the brain was trying to store the information.

The team studied 14 adults with epilepsy who were participating in a diagnostic brain-mapping procedure that used surgically implanted electrodes in various parts of the brain to pinpoint seizure origin. The team delivered MDM electrical stimulation during visual recognition memory tasks to see if the stimulation could help people remember images better. When using this electrical stimulation, there were significant changes in how well people remembered things. In approximately 22% of cases, there was a noticeable difference in performance.

For participants with impaired memory function getting the stimulation on both sides of the brain, almost 40% of them showed significant changes in memory performance. The preclinical work applied the same type of stimulation to restore and facilitate memory in animal models using the MIMO system developed at USC.

The research was funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

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