A recent discovery involving the so-called Princess Leia brainwaves has opened up possibilities to a potential development of memory disruption method in the future.
For years, scientists have struggled studying activities of the brain mainly due to the fact that the researches often focus on one brain activity at a time, leaving the researchers to put all the pieces together after all the studies are done.
No research in history has ever attempted to study the activities of the brain simultaneously for the purpose of seeing the whole picture — until researchers from Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory decided that they want to study activities in the brain by looking at the bigger picture.
“For a long time, neuroscience researchers had to record activity at one point in the brain at a time and put many data points together without seeing the whole picture simultaneously,” says Salk Research Associate and first author of the study, Lyle Muller.
The researchers focused on studying electrical waves of brain activities that happen during sleep, which circle around each side of a person’s brain, forming a pattern reminiscent of that of Princess Leia’s twin hair buns in the epic movie Star Wars, had they been located on the surface of the head.
In the study, the scientists suggested that the so-called Princess Leia brainwaves are responsible for helping the brain store memories that are collected throughout the day as an individual goes to sleep at night.
“The scale and speed of Princess Leia waves in the cortex is unprecedented, a discovery that advances the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative,” said Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory Head Terrence Sejnowski.
It has long been known that short-term memories of events are stored by the brain in a place called the hippocampus. The long-term ones, on the other hand, are stored by the brain in the neocortex.
In order for the brain to transfer a memory from the hippocampus to the neocortex, it undergoes a process called memory consolidation, which, coincidentally, happens when a person is asleep.
Sleep spindles, which are brainwave patterns that occur during the early stages of a non-R.E.M. sleep, have always been associated with memory consolidation by scientists in the past — but no study has ever found how exactly these sleep spindles relate to the storage of memories.
Using intracranial electrocorticograms or ECoGs to monitor activities on all areas of the brain simultaneously, the scientists discovered that the Princess Leia brainwaves were not simultaneously peaking everywhere in the cortex.
Instead, they found that the spindles would peak on one area of the neocortex one moment, and then on the next, on a spot located at an adjacent area.
Muller said they believe that “this brain activity organization is letting neurons talk to neurons in other areas”.
“The time scale that these waves travel at is the same speed it takes for neurons to communicate with each other,” he added.
The scientists believe their findings are significant in such a way that it paves the way for the possibility of developing a technology that might help disrupt memories after a trauma in the future.
“If we understand how memories are being linked up like this in the brain, we could potentially come up with methods for disrupting memories after trauma.”
“There are also disorders including schizophrenia that affect sleep spindles, so this is really an interesting topic to keep studying,” said Sejnowski.
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