Brain mechanism that links memory and location now proven

June 27, 2016, Radboud University
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

You arrive at a certain location and you suddenly remember what you were doing when you were there years ago. Memory and location are closely linked. Researchers at Radboud University's Donders Institute have revealed the brain mechanism that makes this link. The Current Biology journal published their results on June 24.

In 2005, neuroscientists discovered how special brain in rodents react to locations and their context. These so called place cells are located in the hippocampus, a brain area closely linked to memory and spatial navigation. Computational models suggest that hippocampal memories are retrieved when a given input is sufficiently similar to a 'stored' state. Only when the new input fits an existing one, the accompanying memories are retrieved. The current research led by Christian Doeller at the Donders Institute is the first to demonstrate this mechanism in humans.

Slight differences in virtual reality

Twenty test subjects walked through different virtual reality environments while lying in the MRI scanner, where they had to memorise the location of certain objects. Some environments showed slight differences, while others were very distinct (see Figure 1). Although the visual system recognised and reacted to all differences, the hippocampus only responded when two environments were different enough: there was a threshold.

Why is that? "Where small details and differences are of great interest and importance to our visual system, the hippocampus needs to focus on the bigger picture and integrate information from many different sources" says neuroscientist and collaborator of the publication Tobias Navarro Schröder. "That is probably the reason why cells in the hippocampus react differently to small in our surroundings than cells in the visual cortex."

"Especially the link between behaviour and activation patterns is very important in our current study. Fundamental knowledge on this process is relevant for neuroscientific research on decision making, and in the context of psychotherapy for instance, to unlearn undesirable associations."

Explore further: Different memory resolutions map onto different brain locations

More information: Ben Steemers et al. Hippocampal Attractor Dynamics Predict Memory-Based Decision Making, Current Biology (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.063

Related Stories

Different memory resolutions map onto different brain locations

October 20, 2015
Neuroscientists from Radboud University's Donders Institute have shown that memories of the same events co-exist at different resolutions in the brain. Coarse and fine memory scales are distributed across different parts ...

Synchronized brain waves in distant regions combine memories

January 29, 2016
Humans have the remarkable ability to integrate information from multiple memories and infer indirect relationships. How does our brain support this important function? Neuroscientists from the Donders Institute at Radboud ...

When memories age

March 15, 2016
To the brain, it makes a great difference whether we remember experiences from long ago, or if we recollect recent events. RUB neuroscientists have shown that distinct brain networks are involved.

Brain caught 'filing' memories during rest

April 18, 2016
Memories formed in one part of the brain are replayed and transferred to a different area of the brain during rest, according to a new UCL study in rats.

Neurons in the brain tune into different frequencies for different spatial memory tasks

April 17, 2014
Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists ...

How the brain consolidates memory during deep sleep

April 14, 2016
Research strongly suggests that sleep, which constitutes about a third of our lives, is crucial for learning and forming long-term memories. But exactly how such memory is formed is not well understood and remains, despite ...

Recommended for you

When storing memories, brain prioritizes those experiences that are most rewarding

November 20, 2018
The brain's ability to preserve memories lies at the heart of our basic human experience. But how does the brain's mechanism for memory make sure we remember the most significant events and not clog our minds with superfluous ...

Can genetic therapy help kids with Angelman syndrome overcome seizures?

November 20, 2018
Angelman syndrome is a genetic disease with no cure. Children grow up with severe intellectual disabilities and a range of other problems, arguably the worst of which are epileptic seizures. Now scientists at the UNC School ...

To predict the future, the brain has two clocks

November 20, 2018
That moment when you step on the gas pedal a split second before the light changes, or when you tap your toes even before the first piano note of Camila Cabello's "Havana" is struck. That's anticipatory timing.

Researchers hope to be able to replace dysfunctional brain cells

November 20, 2018
A new study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet supports the theory that replacement of dysfunctional immune cells in the brain has therapeutic potential for neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and Alzheimer's disease. ...

White matter pathway and individual variability in human stereoacuity

November 20, 2018
Researchers in the Center for Information and Neural Networks (CiNet), the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and Osaka University have identified a human white matter pathway associated with ...

New immunotherapy improves MS symptoms

November 20, 2018
A world-first clinical trial of a new cellular immunotherapy for multiple sclerosis (MS) has improved symptoms and quality of life for the majority of patients.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.