Stimulating part of the cortex as needed during learning tasks improves later recall. The finding reveals more about the brain’s memory network and points toward possible therapies.
For the past two decades, neuroscientists have been treating movement and neurological disorders with deep brain stimulation, a technique in which electrodes planted in specific regions of the brain send electrical impulses through targeted neural circuitry. More recently, they’ve been trying brain stimulation to enhance memory as well — but with mixed results. In a study appearing today in Nature Communications, however, a team of researchers succeeded at enhancing memory more reliably, by stimulating an area of the brain mostly ignored in earlier studies and by applying that stimulation more strategically and selectively.
The discovery could someday have important clinical applications for treating Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that involve memory impairment. But in the short run, it is also important for what it shows about the significance of a region on the brain’s outer surface, the left lateral temporal cortex, to memory function. “This study reinforces the wisdom that this part of the brain is very important for making the glue that consolidates learned information,” said György Buzsáki, a neuroscientist at the New York University School of Medicine who was not involved with the work.