NIH study suggests tiny electrical brain waves may be a hallmark of successful memory retrieval.

A sound, a smell, a word can all flood our minds with memories of past experiences. In a study of epilepsy patients, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that split seconds before we recall these events tiny electrical waves, called ripples, may flow through key parts of our brains that help store our memories, setting the stage for successful retrieval.

We showed for the first time that ripples may be the neural substrates through which the human brain successfully recalls memories. These results help us understand how the brain processes the details of our past waking experiences or episodic memories.
Kareem Zaghloul, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon-researcher at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and senior author of the study published in Science.

NIH scientists showed how electrical brain waves, called ripples, may help us remember our past experiences.
NIH scientists showed how electrical brain waves, called ripples, may help us remember our past experiences.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Zaghloul lab, NIH/NINDS.

The study was led by Alex P. Vaz, B.S., an M.D., Ph.D. student at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, who was completing his dissertation work with Dr. Zaghloul. For years, Dr. Zaghloul’s team has been using grids of surgically implanted electrodes to record the electrical brain activity of drug-resistant epilepsy patients enrolled in a trial at the NIH’s Clinical Center. The recordings have helped identify the source of a patient’s epileptic seizures as well as provide an opportunity to study how the brain encodes memories.

Our results suggest that coordinated ripple activity may play a critical role in replaying the neural codes behind our memories
Dr. Zaghloul.

Dr. Zaghloul’s lab is currently exploring this phenomenon in greater detail and hopes to understand how the synchronized ripples may influence other neural signals and features that have also been linked to successful memory recall.

 

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