We never really learn to appreciate our memory until we reach a point where we are afraid we may be losing it. As young children, and even into middle age, we simply take memory for granted the majority of the time. When we age we are more aware that our memory does not work as well as it once did.
Neuroscientists from the University of Bristol have been able to block certain brain mechanisms to control the way nerve cells communicate with each other by preventing visual recognition memory in rats. This shows they have been able to identify mechanisms in the cell, and molecular structures of the brain, that could be able to provide a key to understanding the process of recognition memory.
Basically, recognition memory is the ability to recognize objects, people and places that you have experienced before. When you recognize what it was you had known before your brain matches is up to stored long-memory of the same image you end up with matching signals.
Professor of Cellular Neuroscience, Zafar Bashir, led the team at Bristol University. He said: “This is a major step forward in our understanding of recognition memory. We have been able to show that key processes controlling synaptic communication are also vital in learning and memory.”
It is crucial to our normal functioning that we have the ability to recognize elements in the surrounding environment – such as faces or places, as well as the ability to learn about that environment. Unfortunately the changes that occur in the brain that allow learning to occur are still a puzzle to scientists.
One theory about recognition memory is that changes in the synapses that occur between nerve cells in the brain hold the secrets to learning and memory. The strength of communication and the changes that occur are called synaptic plasticity and this is believed to be important for learning and memory.
According to Dr Sarah Griffiths, lead author of the paper published online in Neuron explained: “Nerve cells in the perirhinal cortex of the brain are known to be vital for visual recognition memory. Using a combination of biological techniques and behavioral testing, we examined whether the mechanisms involved in synaptic plasticity are also vital for visual recognition memory.”
In their study, researchers were able to identify a key molecule that controls plasticity in the perirhinal cortex, and then were able to show that blocking that molecule allowed them to prevent visual recognition memory in rats. This indicted to them that recognition memory relies on a specific molecular processes in the brain.
Professor Bashir added: “The next step is to try to understand the processes that enable visual memories to be held in our brains for such long periods of time, and why these mechanisms begin to break down in old age.”
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time USA Memory Champion and memory expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.
Science Daily — Major Step Forward In Understanding How Memory Works: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080423121427.htm
Wikipedia — Recognition memory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_memory