Neuroscientists at UCLA have found that electrically stimulating a specific area of the brain using ultrafine wires enhances memory in epilepsy patients. If the technique can enhance memory in other patients, it might help with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

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Our memory naturally declines with age, and in conditions such as Alzheimer’s, people can suffer devastating memory impairments. In a recent study appearing in journal eLife, neuroscientists have developed a technique that might help to improve memory.

The research team conducted a memory study in epilepsy patients, who already had ultrafine electrodes implanted in their brain, in an effort to find the source of their seizures. However, the electrodes were not only able to monitor electrical activity in the brain, but could also transmit a small electrical current to specific brain regions.

The team monitored the signal from the electrodes while the subjects performed a learning task of studying images of faces. A very small voltage, in a specific pattern of quick pulses, was delivered to the entorhinal area of the brain during the learning task, and the researchers found that the subjects were able to better recognize the facial images later, demonstrating that their memory was improved.

The technique shows that only a small voltage is required to influence memory and learning, and unlike previous studies where large areas of the brain were stimulated with mixed results, the highly specific and minimally invasive technology in this study likely helped. It remains to be seen if the technique could be exploited for other patients with memory impairments, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease.

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