A single brain cell 'can store memories'
A new study by US scientists has discovered that a single brain cell can store 'fleeting memories' which we use in our everyday lives.
A study of mouse brain cells revealed how they could keep information stored for as long as a minute.
Researchers at the University of Southwest Texas found that an individual cell part - a chemical receptor - tells the cell to start an internal signal system which stores the memory.
To perform normal functions, we need the ability to store, quickly and reliably, large amounts of data, but only a small amount of this needs to be retained in the longer term.
Scientists have spent decades working out which parts of the brain are responsible for these functions, and how cells manage this feat.
Original theories suggested the memories were retained by multiple cells forming "circuits" around which electrical impulses were fired for the necessary period.
This research is suggesting that the single-cell theory, not the circuit theory, may lead to possible cures for diseases. The study cites drug addiction and Alzheimer's in particular. Dr. Don Cooper, the lead researcher, believes that the discovery could lead to new drugs which could help people to do tasks without being distracted - such as ignoring the drug-use impulses caused by addiction.
In terms of Alzheimer's, Dr. Cooper points out that it's impossible to form long-term memories without short-term ones. By improving single-cell memory, Alzheimer's patients could more easily perform everyday tasks, and thus have an improved quality of life.