Messing With Memory: Mouse Edition

(Photo: Duncan Hull)

We’ve blogged in the past about how easy it is to create false memories for people. Now scientists at MIT say they’ve succeeded in creating false memories in mice. From The New York Times:

In the research reported Thursday, Dr. Tonegawa’s team first put mice in one environment and let them get used to it and remember it. They identified and chemically labeled the cells in the animals’ brains where that memory was being formed. The mice were not shocked in that environment.

A day later, in a completely different environment, the researchers delivered an electric shock to the mice at the same time that they stimulated the previously identified brain cells to trigger the earlier memory.

On the third day, the mice were reintroduced to the first environment. They froze in fear, a typical and well studied mouse behavior, indicating they remembered being shocked in the first environment, something that never happened. The researchers ran numerous variations of the experiment to confirm that they were in fact seeing the mice acting on a false memory.

Susumu Tonegawa, a Nobel laureate and the study’s lead scientist, told the Times that the research offers further evidence on how generally unreliable memory can be — in both mice and humans.