In DepthNeuroscience

Energy pulses reveal possible new state of memory

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Science  02 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6316, pp. 1089
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6316.1089

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Summary

Memory researchers have shone light into a cognitive limbo. A new memory—the name of someone you've just met, for example—is held for seconds in so-called working memory, as your brain's neurons continue to fire. If the person is important to you, the name will over a few days enter your long-term memory, preserved by permanently altered neural connections. But where does it go during the in-between hours, when it has left your standard working memory and is not yet embedded in long-term memory? To figure this out, a research team resurrects memories from this limbo. Their observations point to a new form of working memory, which they dub prioritized long-term memory, that exists without elevated neural activity. Consistent with other recent work, the study suggests that information can somehow be held among the synapses that connect neurons, even after conventional working memory has faded. This new memory state could have a range of practical implications, from helping college students learn more efficiently to assisting people with memory-related neurological conditions such as amnesia, epilepsy, and schizophrenia.