Insights into Memory Formation: Neuroscientific Breakthroughs

by Liam O'Connor
Engram cells

Recent scientific advancements have shed light on how the brain forms memories, indicating that it may involve the development of new links between engram cells. This highlights the role of changes in synaptic connections in the processes of learning and memory retention.

How does our brain assimilate new information and forge memories? A study spearheaded by Dr. Tomás Ryan of Trinity College Dublin suggests that the creation of fresh connections among distinct engram cells throughout different brain regions is a key factor in learning.

Our continuous learning, whether deliberate, incidental, or accidental, results in ongoing brain changes. Our interactions with the environment, people, and media foster new knowledge acquisition and memory creation.

When we encounter familiar streets, friends, or reminders of a recent podcast, our brains swiftly access the relevant memories. But what changes in our neurons enable the formation of these new memories?

The Dynamic Nature of the Brain

The brain, a dynamic network of cells, is constantly evolving due to factors like growth, aging, decay, regeneration, daily stimuli, and learning. Scientists face the challenge of pinpointing the specific change that results in memory formation. This change, termed an ‘engram,’ is crucial for retaining and utilizing information later.

The recent study aimed to elucidate how engrams in the brain might store information.

Dr. Clara Ortega-de San Luis, the article’s lead author and a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Ryan Lab, stated:

“Engram cells, activated by specific experiences, adapt to store information in the brain. Reactivating these memory ‘building blocks’ brings back the associated experiences. The central question is how engrams encode significant information about our surroundings.”

The research team investigated the alterations in engrams that enable memory encoding through a study focusing on a type of learning where two similar experiences become interconnected by their content.

The team employed a learning paradigm in which animals were trained to distinguish different contexts and form associations between them. They marked two distinct engram cell groups in the brain, each representing a separate memory, and observed the formation of new connections between these cells during learning.

Research Outcomes and Their Significance

The study utilized optogenetics, a technique for controlling brain cell activity with light, to show the necessity of these new connections for learning. They identified a specific synaptic protein playing a crucial role in regulating engram cell connectivity.

This research provides concrete evidence that changes in synaptic connectivity between engram cells are a probable mechanism for memory storage in the brain.

Dr. Ryan, commenting on the study, noted:

“Understanding the cellular basis of learning aids in comprehending memory formation and alteration, and advances our grasp of brain functioning and thought processing.

“In contemporary neuroscience, the belief is that memories are stored in engram cells or their components. This study suggests that instead of seeking information within cells, we should focus on the interactions between them, implying that learning alters the brain’s wiring, resembling a developing sculpture more than a computer.

“In essence, the engram is not within the cell; rather, the cell is part of the engram.”

The study, titled “Engram cell connectivity as a mechanism for information encoding and memory function,” was authored by Clara Ortega-de San Luis, Maurizio Pezzoli, Esteban Urrieta, and Tomás J. Ryan, and published on 21 November 2023 in Current Biology. It was supported by the Irish Research Council, the US National Institute of Health, the European Research Council, and Science Foundation Ireland. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.10.074

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Engram cells

What is the main focus of the recent neuroscience research?

The research primarily focuses on how our brains form memories, specifically investigating the role of engram cells and changes in synaptic wiring in memory storage and learning processes.

How do engram cells contribute to memory formation?

Engram cells are groups of brain cells that adapt and form new connections in response to specific experiences, thus playing a crucial role in storing and retrieving memory information in our brains.

What techniques were used in this neuroscience study?

The study employed a learning paradigm involving animals, genetic labeling of engram cells, and optogenetics, a method that controls brain cell activity with light, to understand memory formation.

What significant discovery did the study make about learning and memory?

The study provided evidence that changes in synaptic wiring connectivity between engram cells are a likely mechanism for memory storage in the brain, shifting the focus from within cells to the connections between them.

Who led this groundbreaking research on memory formation?

Dr. Tomás Ryan from Trinity College Dublin led the research, with Dr. Clara Ortega-de San Luis as the lead author of the study published in Current Biology.

More about Engram cells

  • Understanding Memory Formation
  • Engram Cells and Learning
  • Neuroscience Research by Dr. Tomás Ryan
  • Synaptic Connectivity in Memory Storage
  • Optogenetics and Brain Research
  • Current Biology: Memory Study Publication

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Mike Johnson November 24, 2023 - 5:05 am

really interesting stuff but i think the article could use some more details on how exactly these engram cells work, seems a bit too technical?

Emma Green November 24, 2023 - 7:10 am

so if I get it right, our memories are not just in one place in the brain but sort of spread out? that’s cool but kinda hard to grasp.

Dave Smith November 24, 2023 - 9:24 am

good read but there’s a typo in the second paragraph, should be ‘brain’ not ‘brian’… lol

Sarah Lee November 24, 2023 - 4:01 pm

This is fascinating! It’s amazing how much we’re learning about the brain, can’t wait to see what this means for future memory research.


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