The use of pharmacological agents to block the normal interactions between the CA3 and CA1 internal divisions within the hippocampus made the long-term memory of rats switch on and off

Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) have found a way to switch memories on and off in rats.

Theodore Berger, study leader from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Department of Biomedical Engineering, and Sam A. Deadwyler, of the Wake Forest University Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, have designed a way of switching a rats memory on and off like a light switch.

To do this, scientists taught the rats a certain task where they must press one lever down instead of the other. When they pressed the correct lever, the rats were given a reward. The rats then received embedded electrical probes that allowed the team to record changes in the rat's brain activity between the subregions CA3 and CA1, which are two internal divisions in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is known for transforming short term memory into long-term memory.

The team then used pharmacological agents to block the normal interactions between the CA3 and CA1 internal divisions. With these interactions blocked, previously trained rats no longer behaved as they did before with the levers. Berger noted that they still knew to press the left lever first, then the right lever second, and that the levers released water, but they could only remember for 5 to 10 seconds before forgetting which lever they previously released.

In addition, the researchers built an artificial hippocampal system that could mimic the interactions between the CA3 and CA1. When the electronic device was activated, the pharmacologically blocked rats were able to remember their long-term training once again.

The team went on to even strengthen memory through the use of a prosthetic device and associated electrodes that were implanted in an animal's hippocampus.

"These integrated experimental modelling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes," said the paper.

Berger and his team plan to conduct the same research in primates next, and eventually in humans to help treat Alzheimer's disease.

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