Revolutionary brain imaging technology reveals the intricacies of memory formation
A breakthrough has been made in brain imaging technology that promises unprecedented insights into how memories are created and lost.
Researchers at the University of Michigan created a unique brain imaging system that will capture neuronal activity with unprecedented resolution. This will open up new possibilities for studying the processes of memory formation and reproduction, as well as for identifying the causes of memory impairments associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The system is based on a special lens attached to a microscope that quickly moves vertically between different layers of the cerebral cortex, taking dozens of images per second. During the experiment, mice are given specific combinations of visual, olfactory, and auditory stimuli to create a memory.
“We want to know how memories are formed and why they are not formed in people with memory impairments,” said Mark Reimers, associate professor at the College of Life Sciences and the Institute for Quantum Science and Health Engineering. “We would like to track the evolution of memory over time and even see how things mix up in everyday memory.”
Current brain imaging techniques only capture a few hundred individual neurons, the nerve cells that transmit electrical signals throughout the body. The new system has the potential to capture 10,000 to 20,000 neurons simultaneously, giving researchers an unprecedented view of real-time brain activity.
“The long-term goal of neuroscience is to record the activity of a large number of neurons when an animal performs an action and try to understand the relationship between the specific neurons that are active at one moment and what the animals are doing or experiencing,” Reimers said. “We know that certain neurons are active at certain times, and they correlate with what animals do or experience.”
By combining the imaging system with a newly developed image processing program, the team of researchers ultimately wants to be able to identify the specific neurons that animals use to record and recall memory.
“We hope that we will be the first people to be able to observe and document memory formation across all cortical regions,” Reimers said.
Reimers and his colleague Christian Burgess of the University of Michigan also hope that other scientists can build their own version of the system to improve image quality for their projects.
“It cost us about $50,000 to build it, and we hope that hundreds of different laboratories that are not particularly well funded will be able to use this system to conduct advanced neuroscience research,” Reimers said. “I would also be happy to speak to other UC labs who may be interested in using our new technology for their own research.”