One of the biggest mysteries of neuroscience is the nature of memory. Memories dictates how the brain processes and consolidates the basis of who we are.

The power of smell in recalling memories is a recent study in the Boston University’s Centre for Systems Neuroscience. This challenges a theory that is decades old.

The journal Learning and Memory shows this new research.


The power of the hippocampus

A small brain structure shaped like a seahorse called the hippocampus, is vital for processing the formation of memories.

Those whose hippocampus are damaged are unable to create and from new memories. This region of the brain is also one of the most vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus processes the memories when they first form and captures the rich and contextual details in the memory according to experts and researchers.

The prefrontal cortex, which is the front of the brain, processes memory when you sleep, where many details embedded by the hippocampus becomes lost.

This explains why memories become “fuzzier” over time. The systems consolidation theory is what scientists calls this.


Testing the theory

Recalling a memory shortly after it happens activates the hippocampus according to the theory while remembering old memories activates the prefrontal cortex.

This is because the same brain cells that are active when a memory forms reactivate when a person recalls that memory.

The problem is that there are inconsistencies with this theory. Similar to those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), some people remember old memories vividly.

Smells can trigger memories that are from years gone by from the short-term memory area of the hippocampus process.

This new research utilized mice to test this theory.

Powerful memories were created in the mice by the researchers as the mice are administered with harmless but jolting electric shocks while the mice resided in the container. The scientists exposed half of the mice to the smell of almonds while giving the mice shocks.


The results

The researchers returned to the mice the following day and exposed the scent of almonds again to the same group of mice.

The region of the brain associated with short term memory, the hippocampus, was active for both groups of mice. This concludes that the shocks from the day before was remembered by the mice, proving the systems consolidation theory.

Legacy Verve
By Aaron
2nd April 2020 21:20

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