Memories are stored in our brain like photographs in a vast archive, where some things are easier to find than others. But rather than boxes, they’re kept in brain cells, as physical or chemical changes called engrams (red in the brain section above). Diseases that affect memories are devastating, and being able to retrieve lost ones would be fantastic. That’s what a new study might have achieved. Researchers taught mice fear of a particular place, but prevented that lesson from sticking by obstructing a protein that helps bind memory and experience, so the mice didn’t actually appear frightened. However, these silent fear memories could be retrieved when the engrams were ‘switched on’ using precise beams of light in the brain. This transforms what we know about the archives in our mind, although remember this research is still a very long way from being able to give you the perfect memory.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.