Using modern brain imaging techniques, scientists have indicated the patterns in activity that change depending on whether memories are going to be stored or deleted. The study was done by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and reported to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting this year.
The researchers coupled a number of different brain parts involved in the very complex process of creating and storing memories. In their tests, healthy men and women were shown a list of words or pictures while they were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which recorded activity in the brain.
They were then given a surprise quiz 20 minutes later to see what they remembered. Researchers could then correlate the brain patterns to the stored memories. Professor Anthony Wagner, who led the research team, said: "Using this brain imaging technique allowed us to characterise the human brain while it was in the process of building new memories."
In addition to telling scientists more about how memory works, the technique could also one day be used to correlate early signs of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, where the brain's memory circuits stop working dynamically.