In this current study the scientists had rats learn a task, pressing one of two levers to receive a sip of water. Scientists inserted a microchip into the rat’s brain, with wires threaded into their hippocampus. Here the chip recorded electrical patterns from two specific areas labeled CA1 and CA3 that work together to learn and store the new information of which lever to press to get water.
Scientists then shut down CA1 with a drug. And built an artificial hippocampal part that could duplicate such electrical patterns between CA1 and CA3, and inserted it into the rat’s brain.
With this artificial part, rats whose CA1 had been pharmacologically blocked, could still encode long-term memories. And in those rats who had normally functioning CA1, the new implant extended the length of time a memory could be held.
The next step is to test the device in monkeys, and then in humans.
Of course at this early stage a breakthrough like this brings up more questions than solutions. Memory is hugely complex, based on our individual experiences and perceptions. If we have the electrical pattern for the phrase, See Spot Run, mentioned above, would this mean the same thing for you as it does for me?
How would such a device work within context? As writer Gary Stix asked in the Scientific American article, “Would “See Spot Run” be misinterpreted as laundry mishap instead of a trotting dog?” Or as the science journalist John Horgan once put it, you might hear your wedding song, but I hear a stale pop tune.