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Scientists have decoded why people can't recall familiar names at times from their memory. Pixabay

Most of us know that feeling of trying to retrieve a memory that does not come right away and neuroscientists have now identified different sets of individual neurons which help us retrieve memories when required, a hallmark of the human brain’s flexibility.

An essential aspect of cognitive flexibility is our ability to selectively search for information in memory when we need it.


“This is the first time neurons have been described in the human brain that signal memory-based decisions. In addition, our study shows how memories are transferred to the frontal lobe selectively and only when needed,” explained senior author Ueli Rutishauser, visiting associate in biology and bioengineering at California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

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The study, published in the journal Science and which has implications for the treatment of memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and schizophrenia, was performed in patients who were already undergoing brain surgery for treatment of their seizures.


A subject might be shown a picture of somebody they had never seen before and asked, “Have you seen this face before?”. Pixabay

The volunteers viewed images on a screen and answered different types of questions about the images, while the researchers from Caltech and and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles recorded the activity of individual neurons in their brains using implanted electrodes.

For example, a subject might be shown a picture of somebody they had never seen before and asked, “Have you seen this face before?” or “Is this a face?”

The two questions, respectively, help the researchers distinguish between a memory-based decision and a decision based not on memories but categories, such as faces.

“We make decisions based on retrieved memories all the time,” says lead author Juri Minxha, a postdoctoral scholar at Cedars Sinai.

“In this study, we asked simple yes or no questions designed to cause a volunteer to access either their recent memory or their categorical knowledge”.

The encoding and retrieval of memories occurs in the lower-middle portion of the brain in a region called the medial temporal lobe, which includes the hippocampus.

Decision-making processes involve a region at the front of the brain called the medial frontal cortex.

The ability to flexibly engage and utilize our memories to make decisions depends on interactions between the frontal and temporal lobes.

In the study, the researchers monitored single neurons in both the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe of 13 subjects.

The results revealed neurons that encode memories in the temporal lobe, and “memory choice neurons” in the frontal lobe; these neurons do not store memories but rather help retrieve them.


Neurons in both the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe do not store memories but rather help retrieve them. Pixabay

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“So if we ask a patient if they have seen a face before, neurons in both regions become active. But if we show them the same image and ask, ‘Is this a face?’ then the memory choice neurons remain silent. Instead, we see a second distinct population of neurons in the frontal lobe, supporting the subject’s current goal of categorizing the image,” explained Minxha.

Interestingly, the team found that the decision was represented by the memory choice neurons in an abstract way, such that the very same neurons could signal this information in different contexts.

“This likely accounts for much of the flexibility that we see in human decision-making,” said Ralph Adolphs, Caltech’s Bren Professor of psychology, neuroscience and biology. (IANS)


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Rihanna was summoned from her seat to accept the honour, with the Prime Minister.

Singer Rihanna was honoured by Prime Minister Mia Mottley at an event which marked Barbados's new status as a republic, which was attended by Prince Charles. Addressing the pop star by her real name, the PM said: "Robyn Rihanna Fenty tomorrow morning shall have conferred upon her the order of national hero of Barbados."

Rihanna was then summoned from her seat to accept the honor, with the Prime Minister managing to rouse a laugh from the singer when she referenced her 2012 hit 'Diamonds', reports femalefirst.co.uk. She added: "On behalf of a grateful nation, but an even prouder people, we therefore present to you, the designee, for the national hero of Barbados." "And to accept on behalf of a grateful nation - you can come my dear - ambassador Robyn Rihanna Fenty, may you continue to shine like a diamond and bring honor to your nation." Rihanna, who was born in the St Michael parish of Barbados, found fame in 2005 after being spotted by a record producer and has since gone on to become one of the most successful female artists of all time with sales of over 250 million and recently reached billionaire status through her Fenty beauty brand.

The Prime Minister continued in her speech: "Commanding the imagination of the world through the pursuit of excellence, her creativity, her discipline, and above all else, her extraordinary commitment to the land of her birth. "Having satisfied that, Ambassador Robyn Rihanna Fenty has given service to Barbados which has been exemplified by visionary and pioneering leadership, extraordinary achievement and the attaining of the highest excellence to the Government of Barbados." It comes after a historic move for Barbados, which has become a republic after almost 400 years and welcomes its first president, Sandra Mason, after removing Queen Elizabeth as head of state. (IANS/ MBI)


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