Memory implantation is now officially real
The movie Inception is getting closer to reality. By planting false memories into the minds of mice, neuroscientists at MIT have created the first artificially implanted memories. And they’ve brought us closer to understanding the fallibility of human recollection.
When we experience something, say a trip to the park, a memory of the event is stored in a constellation of interconnected neurons in our brains called an “engram,” or memory trace. When you recall that trip to the park, neurons in the engram become active. Reactivate those neurons artificially, the theory goes, and you can bring the memory bubbling to the surface of someone’s psyche.
In the 1940s, Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield delivered electrical shocks to the temporal lobes of patients about to undergo brain surgery, and his subjects reported the sudden recollection of specific memories. While Penfield’s methods were too crude to isolate a single engram, they provided more evidence for the memory-trace hypothesis. And they also pointed to a brain region, the temporal lobe, as a repository for episodic memories. Today, we know that these memories are actually stored in a sea-horse shaped region of the temporal lobe called the hippocampus.
In a study published in the latest issue of Science, a team of researchers led by MIT neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa demonstrates its ability to isolate and activate engrams in a mouse’s memory-rich hippocampus. The researchers go on to implant false memories in the mouse’s mind, causing it to recall experiences that have never actually occurred.
Here’s how they did it.