First Artificial Memory Formed In Animals

A group researchers have succeeded in implanting an artificial memory in lab mice.

Earlier studies had shown that specific nerve pathways leading to a structure known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA) were important for the aversive nature of the foot shock. To create a truly artificial memory, the researchers needed to stimulate the VTA in the same way as they stimulated the olfactory sensory nerves, but the transgenic animals only made the light-sensitive proteins in those nerves. In order to use optogenetic stimulation, they stimulated the olfactory nerves in the same genetically engineered mice , and they employed a virus to place light-sensitive proteins in the VTA as well. They stimulated the olfactory receptors with light to simulate the odor of cherry blossoms, then stimulated the VTA to mimic the aversive foot shock. The animals recalled the artificial memory, responding to an odor they had never encountered by avoiding a shock they had never received.

(Via Scientific American.)

I like the phrase used by the researchers - "memory formation in the absence of experience":

Memory is coded by patterns of neural activity in distinct circuits. Therefore, it should be possible to reverse engineer a memory by artificially creating these patterns of activity in the absence of a sensory experience. In olfactory conditioning, an odor conditioned stimulus (CS) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (US; for example, a footshock), and the resulting CS–US association guides future behavior.

Here we replaced the odor CS with optogenetic stimulation of a specific olfactory glomerulus and the US with optogenetic stimulation of distinct inputs into the ventral tegmental area that mediate either aversion or reward. In doing so, we created a fully artificial memory in mice.

Similarly to a natural memory, this artificial memory depended on CS–US contingency during training, and the conditioned response was specific to the CS and reflected the US valence. Moreover, both real and implanted memories engaged overlapping brain circuits and depended on basolat-eral amygdala activity for expression.

(Via Memory formation in the absence of experience.)

In his 1966 short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick called them "extra-factual memories":

"Is an extra-factual memory that convincing?" Quail asked.

"More than the real thing, sir...our analysis of true-mem systems - authentic recollections of major events in a person's life - shows that a variety of details are very quickly lost..."

...Quail said, "Okay...I guess I'll have to settle for this."

"Don't think of it that way," McClane said severely. "You're not accepting second-best. The actual memory, with all its vagueness ... that's second-best."
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's artificial memory)

Researchers note: Dick also called the process of implanting artificial memories "vicarious surrogate retrospection".

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