How Do We Encode New Memories? | May-Britt Moser | Google Zeitgeist


So if we go into the brain, we see that it
consists of brain cells. These cells, they need to talk to each other,
and they talk to each other by sending tiny electrical signals along the cell, and then,
at the end of the cell, there are some chemicals that are released to the other cell so that
it can respond. And we can use tiny sensors close to these
cells and ask them, “What are you doing when an animal or human is moving or acting or
thinking or remembering?” So it started with this structure. It’s a beautiful structure deep, deep in the
brain. It’s called the hippocampus. And I hope that if you don’t remember anything
from this Zeitgeist, you’ll remember this hippocampus. It’s a sea horse. It looks like a sea horse, as you see. And if you don’t have two of these hippocampi,
you will not remember a single word of what I told you today because you need active cells
in this structure in order to encode new memories and objects, facts, new faces, new names,
and also to remember what you had for breakfast this morning. And we can go into such structures and try
to understand how the cells talk to each other when this structure is producing our memories. And that is what I try to tell you today. So it started when I was invited to London,
together with my ex-husband, and we had a fantastic period with John O’Keefe, who we
earned the Nobel Prize with, and he trained us to go into this structure and then record
the small electrical potentials. And he did that in the ’60s, and he had just
heard about this structure that you needed, to remember. So you can imagine, so he just put in these
sensors, and the animal was just running around and he was listening to the cell (making sound),
and sometimes the cell was active and sometimes it wasn’t. And sometimes the activity was increasing
a lot (making sound), and then it was silent. And he was sitting there like a child and
he was trying to understand: Why is this cell active here and why is this cell silent here? And what he finally figured out was that it’s
something about the space. And when he recorded — not he, but other
people recorded more than a hundred cells at the same time for some time, they could
even predict where the animal was with a 5-centimeter precision. That’s amazing.

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