Researchers at MIT don’t forget much. But now if they do they can use their own discovery to recover a “lost” memory. MIT scientists just published a paper in the journal Science that claims amnesia — or memory loss — is a “problem of retrieval impairment.” That’s a significant change from what most scientists have believed, which is that amnesia is caused by the inability of the brain to store memories. The MIT research says it’s not a matter of storage — instead it’s the tools we use to recover them that are at fault.
The research showed that groups of cells in the hippocampus area of the brain undergo a process of called memory consolidation. It involves the strengthening of the synapses. But surprisingly memories are not stored in the strengthened synapses of the cells. Instead the memories are stored in a circuit, or combination, of cells and in the connections between them. By triggering this circuit with light, researchers were able to retrieve memories showing that the retrieval process — not the memory consolidation — is what breaks down in amnesia.