In an amazing new discovery while trying to understand the human brain, a team of researchers have found how memories are formed and how new learning happens.
The research was a partnership between Matias Ison and Rodrigo Quian Quiroga from the University of Leicester and Itzhak Fried from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The research showed how a neuron in the brain reacted differently when a new memory was formed.
In a trial study conducted the scientists showed volunteers images of people in a context such as Jennifer Aniston at the Eiffel Tower, Clint Eastwood in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Halle Berry at the Sidney Opera House or Tiger Woods at the White House.
The scientists while studying the reactions of the brain to each image noticed that the neuron formerly fired for a single image e.g. Jennifer Aniston or Tiger Woods, now also reacted for associated images of places e.g. Eiffel Tower or White House.
In the remarkable result scientists found that the neurons changed their firing properties at the exact time that the volunteers formed a new memory.
The neuron formerly firing to Jennifer Aniston now fired to the Eiffel Tower at the moment the volunteer started remembering the association between Jennifer Aniston and Eiffel Tower.
What’s even more amazing about this result is that previous tests were done on animals and the changes in neurons were observed after long training sessions, in this case the scientists kept it more closer to real life experiences, meaning we only experience or are exposed to an event usually once and we remember it, we are not exposed again and again in order for us to form a memory. Thus in this experiment the neurons were observed to be firing after just a single presentation.
This is the first study that has revealed how a single neuron correlates learning of new associations in the human brain, said Lead author of the study, Ison.
The previous animal studies of a single neuron underpinning memory formation were very limited in terms of how single events determine new episodic memories.
The study appears in journal Neuron.