How the brain tags memories as important enough to keep | Technology

A new study proposes a mechanism that determines which memories are tagged as important enough to linger in the brain until sleep makes them permanent.

Neuroscientists have established in recent decades the idea that some of each day’s experiences are converted by the brain into permanent memories during sleep the same night.

Led by researchers from New York University Grossman School of Medicine, the new study revolves around brain cells called neurons that “fire”—or bring about swings in the balance of their positive and negative charges—to transmit electrical signals that encode memories.

Large groups of neurons in a brain region called the hippocampus fire together in rhythmic cycles, creating sequences of signals within milliseconds of each other that can encode complex information.

Called “sharp wave-ripples,” these “shouts” to the rest of the brain represent the near-simultaneous firing of 15% of hippocampal neurons, and are named for the shape they take when their activity is captured by electrodes and recorded on a graph.

While past studies had linked ripples with memory formation during sleep, the new study, published in the journal Science, found that daytime events followed immediately by five to 20 sharp wave-ripples are replayed more during sleep and so consolidated into permanent memories. Events followed by very few or no sharp wave-ripples failed to form lasting memories.

“Our study finds that sharp wave-ripples are the physiological mechanism used by the brain…

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