Quirks & Quarks

Scientists have seen new memories forming in an animal for the first time

Researchers have successfully captured the first images of memories as they are being formed, after mapping the changes to the brains of zebrafish as they stored information.

Researchers mapped the changes to the brains of zebrafish as they stored information.

Images captured from the microscope provide a three-dimensional image of the zebrafish brain. Small green dots are synapses. Larger green dots are the nucleus of the neurons in the fish’s brain. (Don Arnold, University of Southern California)

Scientists have successfully captured the first images of memories as they are being formed in a living brain.

The team from the University of Southern California worked with young zebrafish, which are both a good genetic stand-in for humans, and also, conveniently, have transparent heads.

The researchers spent six years developing ways to follow individual synapses in the brain, and designed a new microscope in order to view them in action. Then they conditioned a zebrafish to learn a lesson, and watched as the memory was stored in the brain.

Comparing synapse maps from before and after learning, the researchers identified synapses that were either created or eliminated in the process. (Don Arnold, University of Southern California)

"So now we could identify synapse by synapse and ask, what were the changes in that particular animal?" said Scott Fraser, a Provost Professor of Biological Science and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, and co-author of the paper.

The research was published in the journal PNAS, as well as published on the publicly available website Mapping the Dynamic Synaptome. You can listen to the full interview with Prof. Fraser at the link above.


Produced by Amanda Buckiewicz

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