Scientists are hoping to get new insight into treating brain injuries or diseases, by using tools from neuroscience to determine how the human cortex captures and stores memories.
Already, researchers have determined that, when the brain first encodes and stores an piece of information, it does so differently than in similar situations later on, when the same type of data needs to be stored.
The is to say, the very first memory from a new class is inscribed in a very particular manner, say researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).
Researchers say that the new study on how we learn and store memories is detailed in the September 29 issue of the online, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, a publication of the Public Library of Science.
According to the team, memories are first formed in a cortical area known as the hippocampus. This is a seahorse-shaped structure that processes, encodes, stores and retrieves whatever data we remember.
The problem with it is that it's very prone to influences, especially from factors such as strokes, powerful blows to the head, lack of oxygen and so on.
Previous investigations have also demonstrated that the structure is involved in underlying Alzheimer's disease, says UCLA professor of psychology Michael Fanselow, a coauthor of the PLoS paper.
The expert, who was a part of the research team, also holds an appointment as a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute.
“The system we are working with is one that we know is critically involved in Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of brain deficit memory impairment,” the expert reveals.
“This is just the start. We have uncovered a mechanism that contributes to learning and memory, and we now have to figure out what to do with it,” he goes on to say.
Garvan Institute of Medical Research expert Bryce Vissel, who was also involved in the effort, believes that a small protein known as the NMDA receptor, is involved in the type of synaptic transmission that underlies memory formation.
The research team determined that NMDA is not essential to second-hand learning, as previously thought. This is when the same type of memory as a past experience is formed in the brain.
“We can see that we might now have a target for drugs that are different from the standard class of cognitive enhancers,” Fanselow explains.
“We can see the possibilities for different styles of training that better activate this newly discovered mechanism,” he goes on to say.