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Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus

Science  26 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6144, pp. 387-391
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239073

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Can You Trust Your Memory?

Being highly imaginative animals, humans constantly recall past experiences. These internally generated stimuli sometimes get associated with concurrent external stimuli, which can lead to the formation of false memories. Ramirez et al. (p. 387; see the cover) identified a population of cells in the dentate gyrus of the mouse hippocampus that encoded a particular context and were able to generate a false memory and study its neural and behavioral interactions with true memories. Optogenetic reactivation of memory engram–bearing cells was not only sufficient for the behavioral recall of that memory, but could also serve as a conditioned stimulus for the formation of an associative memory.

Abstract

Memories can be unreliable. We created a false memory in mice by optogenetically manipulating memory engram–bearing cells in the hippocampus. Dentate gyrus (DG) or CA1 neurons activated by exposure to a particular context were labeled with channelrhodopsin-2. These neurons were later optically reactivated during fear conditioning in a different context. The DG experimental group showed increased freezing in the original context, in which a foot shock was never delivered. The recall of this false memory was context-specific, activated similar downstream regions engaged during natural fear memory recall, and was also capable of driving an active fear response. Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means.

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