Rodent recall: False but happy memories - Cog Blog by Brittany Windus

Memory is one of the many wonders of the brain. Our memories are usually formed from past experiences and can last for mere seconds in short term memory or years and years in long term memory. One thing that is really interesting about memory is the concept of false memories. False memories are events or things that we think we know and truly believe to be true, but they are actually untrue or never happened. A recent article by Hannah Devlin titled “Rodent recall: false but happy memories implanted in sleeping mice” discusses new research led by Karim Benchenane at CRNS in Paris takes the idea of false memories to a whole new place while working on mice. Benchenane and the other researchers performed a study involving memory manipulation in sleeping mice. They successfully created false, happy memories in the mice (Devlin, 2015). 

During the study, researchers wrote false positive memories about a particular place in the animal’s memory, which caused the animal to try to find this place after waking up to receive a positive reward. This is the first evidence showing that false positive emotional memory can be manipulated. This could lead to treatments for depression and painful memories. Benchenane and the other researchers hope to use these findings in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (Devlin, 2015).

To perform this experiment, the researchers implanted an electrode in the hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain and another in the brain’s reward center. In the brains of mice and humans, place cells map out our surrounding environment. These place cells light up as we move, so the scientists were able to pick a specific place cell neuron and figure out which location it related to in reality as the mouse walked around. Mice replay this place cell activity while sleeping, reenacting where they were when awake. The researchers cleverly set up the electrodes to deliver a reward simulation in the second electrode whenever the first electrode, located at the target place cell, became activated. The memory of this place was originally known to the mice as neutral, but during sleep they learned to relate it to something positive occurring, a false memory (Devlin, 2015).

This study gives evidence that the factual and emotional content of our memories are stored in different parts of the brain, but can be changed independently. The results could lead to memory manipulation in humans in the future (Devlin, 2015).

This article by Hannah Devlin is extremely interesting. The research she discussed led by Karim Benchenane is groundbreaking and important and could lead to many important clinical applications. Although I enjoyed the article, I did find some faults with it. Devlin should have added more specific details about the research itself. She did not include any specific statistics or any participant numbers about the mice. She could have also added information about the area where the experiment occurred. I wanted to know what the locations looked like that the mice were going to. I have a few suggestions for the research itself as well. First and most obvious I would recommend replication. Replication is the best way to support the information discovered in the original study. Another suggestion I have for this study would be to do an additional study to further the possible clinical applications. In this new study I would place an electrode on a location spot in the brain that the mice already have negative feelings for (like a person would already have negative feelings in depression). Next, I would generate the false positive memories with the second electrode like in the original study. I would do this second experiment to see if the false positive memories can replace the negative ones instead of just implanting false positive memories where neutral memories once were. This would give stronger evidence for clinical applications in people with negative feelings. Overall, the article and the study were novel and interesting.