How our brain absorb new information and shape memories has fascinated Neuroscientists.
Recent research led by Dr. Tomás Ryan from Trinity College Dublin reveals that learning stems from the continuous creation of fresh connectivity patterns between specific engram cells situated across various brain regions.
Learning isn’t confined to specific moments—it’s a constant, ongoing process. As we navigate life, engage with others or consume content our minds are continually assimilating information and forging new memories.
Think about walking down a familiar street, meeting friends or encountering something that triggers memories of a podcast. Instantly, our brains retrieve associated memory fragments. But how do these experiences trigger modifications in our neurons, enabling the formation of new memories?
The brain is a complex organ, a dynamic network of cells in constant flux due to growth, aging, regeneration and daily experiences. Scientists seek the crucial changes that define memory storage—the “engram,” a brain alteration preserving information for later use.
A recent study aimed to decode how information might be encoded as engrams. Dr Clara Ortega-de San Luis lead author of the article published in Journal Current Biology explained “Memory engram cells are groups of brain cells that, activated by specific experiences, change themselves to incorporate and thereby hold information in our brain. Reactivation of these ‘building blocks’ of memories triggers the recall of the specific experiences associated [with] them. The question is, how do engrams store meaningful information about the world?”
Researchers investigated how engrams change to encode a memory by examining a learning paradigm linking similar experiences in animals. Using genetic techniques they labeled distinct engram cell groups for different memories and observed how learning led to the creation of fresh connections among these cells.
Employing optogenetics which manipulates brain cell activity using light they demonstrated the necessity of these new connections for learning. Additionally, they pinpointed a molecular mechanism, involving a specific synaptic protein, regulating connectivity among engram cells.
This study’s findings provide direct evidence that alterations in synaptic wiring between engram cells likely underpin memory storage in the brain.
Dr. Ryan said “Understanding the cellular mechanisms that allow learning to occur helps us to comprehend not only how we form new memories or modify those pre-existent ones, but also advance our knowledge towards disentangling how the brain works and the mechanisms needed for it to process thoughts and information.
“In 21st-century neuroscience, many of us like to think memories are being stored in engram cells, or their sub-components. This study argues that rather than looking for information within or at cells, we should search for information ‘between’ cells, and that learning may work by altering the wiring diagram of the brain—less like a computer and more like a developing sculpture.
“In other words, the engram is not in the cell; the cell is in the engram.”
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