by Bill Hayes
In Total Recall, Smithsonian magazine reports on two scientists who for the first time implanted a false memory into a mouse.
The observation culminated more than two years of a long-shot research effort and supported an extraordinary hypothesis: Not only was it possible to identify brain cells involved in the encoding of a single memory, but those specific cells could be manipulated to create a whole new “memory” of an event that never happened.
“It’s a fantastic feat,” says Howard Eichenbaum, a leading memory researcher and director of the Center for Neuroscience at Boston University, where Ramirez did his undergraduate work. “It’s a real breakthrough that shows the power of these techniques to address fundamental questions about how the brain works.”
The prospect of tinkering precisely with memory has tantalized scientists for years. “A lot of people had been thinking along these lines,” says Sheena Josselyn, a senior neuroscientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who studies the cellular underpinnings of memory, “but they never dreamed that these experiments would actually work. No one ever thought that you could actually, really do this.”
Except Ramirez and Liu. Their work has launched a new era in memory research and could someday lead to new treatments for medical and psychiatric afflictions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. “The sky is really the limit now,” says Josselyn. [more]