Memory Implantation is Now Closer to Reality

memory implantation

If you are a fan of the movie Inception and wondered whether there is a possibility to accomplish something similar to it, then you’d be hyped to hear that memory implantation is closer to reality now.

But unlike the movie where false memories are implanted or rather suggested during R.E.M. or deep sleep and embedded into the subconscious when one is asleep, recent scientific experiments were conducted while the subject is fully awake. Poor lab rats I know but at least such vermin help humanity with new discoveries.


Before we talk about the actual experiments, here’s an overview of how memories work. Every memory of an experience is stored or assigned in specific neurons in the brain called an “engram” or a memory trace and are stored in the hippocampus. Remembering a specific event which often happens when exposed to a similar environment where the original event occurred will trigger the associated neuron to function in order for us to create a recollection of what took place in the past. When neurons are then artificially triggered, memories are recovered forcefully even amidst an environment which is entirely different from the original.

Experiment 1

Ph.D. candidate Aleena Garner and her University of California, San Diego colleagues used a mouse to demonstrate how a new memory is formed based on an old one. Specific neurons which are active while the mouse is at a pre-designed environment A were marked. In this environment, everything is quite smooth and peaceful. The mouse is then transferred to environment B where it is exposed to mild electrical shocks. The neurons in A are later on reactivated while the mouse is at B.

If the test subject remembers both environments, it will naturally associate A with good memories and B with something that it should be fearful about. But in the experiment, the mouse forgets about B and remembers only A when specifically marked neurons associated with its memory of A was fired up while it was placed in B.

Although it is too soon to conclude, we can assume from the experiment above that new memories can be created based on old ones by triggering certain neurons.

Experiment 2

Another related experiment was conducted by a team of MIT researchers spearheaded by Nobel Laureate Susum Tonegawa. In this experiment, two chambers were used labeled as A and B. First, the mouse is exposed in A and engrams connected to the experience were marked. When moved to B, the scientists used a new neuroscience technology called “optogenetics” where light is used to trigger the neurons associated with A’s memory; thereby, encouraging the mouse to recall memories of A while in B. While remembering A in B, they further applied minimal electrical shock which left the mouse in fear.

What’s remarkable was that when the subject was placed back in the first chamber, it showed signs of fear and froze. We can then assume from this experiment that the mouse developed false memories of A due to its experience in B although none of it actually occurred in A but in B.


Although it’s amazing to know that memory implantation is now possible, I wonder what will it be useful for? If you recall Inception, recovering memories were performed by mercenaries to gather information illegally. Competing companies can collect business strategies to sabotage each other’s plans or to duplicate the same method used. Using the new discoveries above, the same can be accomplished while the target is awake.

But there’s nothing to worry about at least for now because it will be literally impossible to trace which specific neuron to trigger in order to recover a certain memory. Thus said, you can’t use the concept to find out where you left your keys or any other object; not unless your neurons are all marked and recorded in connection with each memory. But that’s not even possible for humans yet and only engineered mice can have neurons marked, for now.


The brain and its complexity is definitely overwhelming and I’m sure anyone can become fascinated with neuroscience and the possibilities it can bring. But it will be rather useless if such discoveries are not utilized for the benefit of mankind.



About Maria Marilyn:
Maria Marilyn is the editor of TechBugs. Catch her on this blog and on Twitter.

Maria Marilyn is the editor of TechBugs. Catch her on this blog and on Twitter.

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