How Memories Are Made, Stored

Researchers find two different areas of brain responsible for process

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THURSDAY, May 13, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Researchers have found that two different areas of the brain are probably responsible for storing and retrieving short-term memories.

According to an article in the current issue of Neuron, the hippocampus, a structure long believed to be important for short-term memory, apparently shares this function with another brain area known as the subiculum.

Using multiple electrodes smaller than the size of a human hair, the researchers from Wake Forest University recorded brain activity in rats performing a memory task.

The results showed both the hippocampus and subiculum encode information, but do it at different times.

"Surprisingly, we found that the shortest memories were controlled almost exclusively by the subiculum, which is exactly the opposite from what was previously believed," lead researcher Sam Deadwyler said in a prepared statement. "For the first 10 or 15 seconds of the task used to examine this in rats, we found that the memory function of the hippocampus actually shuts off."

The research also found that memory stored in the hippocampus is biased by past experience, allowing the brain structure to anticipate future events based on past outcomes.

This could explain why a person who takes the same highway exit to work each day might accidentally take it on a day he's headed somewhere else, Deadwyler said.

More information

BrainInfo has more about the hippocampus.

SOURCES: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, news release, May 12, 2004

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