30 May 2007
Cooking Up Memories
by Kate Melville
Tel-Aviv University researchers have shown that it's possible to store multiple rudimentary memories in an artificial culture of live neurons. While recording information in a man-made network of neurons may sound distinctly Borg-ish, the work will be of benefit to neurologists who want to better understand how our brains learn and store information.
The study, published in the journal Physical Review E, used an array of electrodes to monitor the firing patterns in a network of linked neurons. As previous studies had shown, simply linking the neurons together leads them to spontaneously fire in coordinated patterns. Researchers Itay Baruchi and Eshel Ben-Jacob found that they could deliberately create additional firing patterns that coexist with the spontaneous patterns. They claim that these new firing patterns essentially represent simple memories stored in the neuron network.
To create a new memory in the neurons, the researchers introduced minute amounts of a chemical stimulant into the culture at a selected location. The stimulant induced a second firing pattern, starting at that location. The new firing pattern in the culture coexisted with the original pattern.
Twenty-four hours later, they injected another round of stimulants at a new location, and a third firing pattern emerged. The three memory patterns persisted, without interfering with each other, for over forty hours.
In addition to producing the first chemically operated neuro-memory chip, the researchers propose that their work implies that chemical stimulation may be crucial to learning and memory formation in living organisms.
Source: American Physical Society