MIT Researchers Implant False Memories In Mice

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MIT Researchers Implant False Memories In Mice

Total Recall machine

In news that's sure to make Philip K. Dick turn in his grave, scientists have successfully demonstrated an ability to implant memories within mammalian test subjects.

Imagine a world where you can have custom-tailored memories implanted into your skull. Want to be beautiful? Want to be a secret agent? Want to be Arnold Schwarzenegger and meet interesting, three-breasted prostitutes? Yes, that's blatantly the premise behind 1990's Total Recall, but thanks to new research conducted by scientists at MIT, that future might not be so far off after all.

A team of MIT researchers led by Nobel Laureate Susumu Tonegawa published a study in the latest issue of Science which records how Tonegawa's team was able to implant memories in the brains of lab mice. It's a involved process, but to put things simply, the researchers genetically engineered rodents capable of expressing the Channelrhodopsin-2 protein. Crucially, these mice only express the protein within the hippocampus region of their brains, specifically the neurons involved in the formation of new memories.

Once suitable subjects were bred, Tonegawa's team implanted a small fiber optics cable in the brains of each test mouse. Channelrhodopsin-2 is a light-sensitive protein, so when these cables were activated, the proteins within the mice's hippocampi likewise become active, essentially forming a memory of the light they "saw" within their minds. Even after moving the mice to a completely new test area, the researchers found that they could force the mice to recall the memory of the aforementioned light by reactivating the subjects' fiber optics implants.

Here comes the really interesting part: Not only can scientists create memories, they can also associate ideas like pain with those memories. Once it had been determined that the mice were retaining these false memories, researchers administered small electrical shocks to their feet. These shocks were timed to coincide with flashes of light from the fiber optic implants, and as a result the mice began to associate the light with a negative sensation. Even after they'd been moved back to the original test area, the mice reacted fearfully whenever the researchers lit up their tiny rodent brains.

"Are there multiple conditions that lead to the formation of false memories?" writes study co-author Steve Ramirez. "Can false memories for both pleasurable and aversive events be artificially created? What about false memories for more than just contexts - false memories for objects, food or other mice? These are the once seemingly sci-fi questions that can now be experimentally tackled in the lab."

The potentially horrifying ramifications should this discovery be scaled up to affect humans go without saying, so instead let's look at the positives. Soldiers afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder could soon have more positive memories replace those terrible ones that haunt their minds. Childhood trauma could be erased with the flick of a switch. And of course, we could all learn kung fu by simply sitting back in a filthy chair and jamming a huge steel phallic metaphor into our brain stems.

It's growing increasingly difficult to determine what's "sci-fi" and what's simply "sci."

Source: io9

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It would be interesting if there was a possibility that you would be able to create memories of a skill, or perhaps learn a language, so someone wouldn't have to spend years learning something but be able to "learn" it in a fraction of the time.

Well....that's not creepy at all.... >.>

Seriously, this should be MIT's new slogan: "MIT: Because Apparently We Really Don't Have Anything Better To Do."

So if we gave Wesley Snipes the memories of Usain Bolt, would that make him a Blade Runner?

It's not really a false memory when there's an actual light and actual pain is it?

It's simply a very real memory being recorded slightly differently, by light-sensitive cells within the brain rather than by light-sensitive cells just outside the brain.

And the pain is obviously very real, they're being shocked. Nothing false about those memories.

Well at least school won't be so hard if everyone has access and the money to use this, in fact if this ever reaches a far enough point then there wouldn't be a need for school at all..... in theory anyway.

DVS BSTrD:
So if we gave Wesley Snipes the memories of Usain Bolt, would that make him a Blade Runner?

Wouldn't we all like to be Blade runners? We just need some Fiber for our brains.

On a serious note, maybe if i remember correctly, excising is another way for our brains to adjust to muscle growth, or something like that. IF i remember our bodies can already do that stuff but our brain limits our bodies due to strain and extreme fatigue and likely death, training helps lessen that limit or something like that, I think one of my teachers told me that.

Hagi:
It's not really a false memory when there's an actual light and actual pain is it?

It's simply a very real memory being recorded slightly differently, by light-sensitive cells within the brain rather than by light-sensitive cells just outside the brain.

And the pain is obviously very real, they're being shocked. Nothing false about those memories.

They're talking about after the mice are removed from the stimulus, but that's more simple Pavlov than anything else.

The important thing here is that the scientists found a way to use fiber-optic cables to forcibly generate stimulus directly into the mice's brain. It's not clear in the article if they know/understand what that stimulus exactly is, but they were able to stimulate the proteins and brain processes used to create memories through the use of fiber-optics. This is absolutely the creation of false memories. It's highly unlikely it's anything more than an incredibly crude facsimile of a memory (if it ever even reached above the level of "sensation" that is), but it is hijacking brain processes.

Can it make studying easier? As in implant knowledge in my brain until it explodes?

Earnest Cavalli:
It's growing increasingly difficult to determine what's "sci-fi" and what's simply "sci."

And that is awesome. Go science! Bring on the warp drive.

Agayek:
They're talking about after the mice are removed from the stimulus, but that's more simple Pavlov than anything else.

The important thing here is that the scientists found a way to use fiber-optic cables to forcibly generate stimulus directly into the mice's brain. It's not clear in the article if they know/understand what that stimulus exactly is, but they were able to stimulate the proteins and brain processes used to create memories through the use of fiber-optics. This is absolutely the creation of false memories. It's highly unlikely it's anything more than an incredibly crude facsimile of a memory (if it ever even reached above the level of "sensation" that is), but it is hijacking brain processes.

The pain association is, as you say, simply Pavlov and has nothing whatsoever to do with false memories.

The article specifically mentions that the mouse's memories are of light. Which is exactly what fiber-optics transmit.

Don't get me wrong, this is still impressive. They've engineered mouse with the ability to generate memories through a new sense. But it's still a real memory of something that actually happened. There was an actual light within the fiber-optic cable which the mouse is recalling.

A fake memory would be if they trained the mouse in exactly the same way, using the fiber-optic cable and the pain sensation and then managed to get the same reaction not by triggering the same fiber-optic cable again ( which is the real memory ) but by triggering another of the mouse's senses and the mouse recalling it as if it was exactly the same as the fiber-optic memory ( which would make it fake, since it's not ).

Hm, neat steps forward, now where's my invisibility cloak?

I am actually not fond of this idea at all. There are a million ways false memory could be used against us and the worst part is, we'd have no idea they did it.

I know it's way off but I want to be skeptical damn it.

Hagi:

Agayek:
They're talking about after the mice are removed from the stimulus, but that's more simple Pavlov than anything else.

The important thing here is that the scientists found a way to use fiber-optic cables to forcibly generate stimulus directly into the mice's brain. It's not clear in the article if they know/understand what that stimulus exactly is, but they were able to stimulate the proteins and brain processes used to create memories through the use of fiber-optics. This is absolutely the creation of false memories. It's highly unlikely it's anything more than an incredibly crude facsimile of a memory (if it ever even reached above the level of "sensation" that is), but it is hijacking brain processes.

The pain association is, as you say, simply Pavlov and has nothing whatsoever to do with false memories.

The article specifically mentions that the mouse's memories are of light. Which is exactly what fiber-optics transmit.

Don't get me wrong, this is still impressive. They've engineered mouse with the ability to generate memories through a new sense. But it's still a real memory of something that actually happened. There was an actual light within the fiber-optic cable which the mouse is recalling.

A fake memory would be if they trained the mouse in exactly the same way, using the fiber-optic cable and the pain sensation and then managed to get the same reaction not by triggering the same fiber-optic cable again ( which is the real memory ) but by triggering another of the mouse's senses and the mouse recalling it as if it was exactly the same as the fiber-optic memory ( which would make it fake, since it's not ).

The false memory is that they are tricking the mice into remembering something that didnt happen.

Test 1 - shine light on mice

Test 2 - shine light on mice and shock them

Test 3 - Mice are put in test 1 conditons, but think its test 2 (hence the false memory)

It's crude, but think of this as eye witness testimony. You are at a diner and you recall in your testimony that there were 4 men in suits there (sit. A). But CCTV shows that there were actually 2 men and 1 women (sit. B). The research in this paper basically tricked the mice into thinking situation A was real by manipulating memory forming cells with light.

In other words, the mice arent remembering B because of A (Pavlov), they are mis-remembering A because they were tricked by B.

Scientists learn how to manipulate people's memories and a video game site's reaction is to invoke Total Recall, not Remember Me? Or even BioShock?

I am disappoint, guys.

Steve the Pocket:
Scientists learn how to manipulate people's memories and a video game site's reaction is to invoke Total Recall, not Remember Me? Or even BioShock?

I am disappoint, guys.

I am disappoint in YOU. Do you not know that Total Recall THE GAME! preceded BOTH of those?!

You need to work on your Nintendo history.

Though I really love how people here are dismissing this research.

You could make a photo-reactive compound that targets specific receptors in the brain. Meaning you could basically inject people with memory juice and then start altering their minds! This is both the scariest and most amazing thing I have read in a long while.

I only hope they are in time for Matrix jokes to still be relevant.

I know animal testing is necessary for us to progress, but reading about things like this just makes me feel bad.

I think these scientists should have a sit down and watch Dollhouse, followed by reading 'Flowers for Algernon'. Interesting stuff but with potentially scary ramifications. Poor mice.

RJ 17:
Well....that's not creepy at all.... >.>

Seriously, this should be MIT's new slogan: "MIT: Because Apparently We Really Don't Have Anything Better To Do."

MIT: we do what we must, because we can.

I think we're still a long, long way from mapping out exactly what neurons hold which memories, so I wouldn't run out to buy a football helmet just yet.

nathan-dts:
I know animal testing is necessary for us to progress, but reading about things like this just makes me feel bad.

Yeah, me too. It would be nice if we could implant memories of cheese and hugs. And maybe Skittles.

seydaman:
Hm, neat steps forward, now where's my invisibility cloak?

What are you talking about? It's right over there.

...oh, great, somebody left the damn thing on, now we'll never find it.

The Rogue Wolf:
I think we're still a long, long way from mapping out exactly what neurons hold which memories, so I wouldn't run out to buy a football helmet just yet.

nathan-dts:
I know animal testing is necessary for us to progress, but reading about things like this just makes me feel bad.

Yeah, me too. It would be nice if we could implant memories of cheese and hugs. And maybe Skittles.

Not sure if serious, but yeah, with something like this, some positive memories should be associated with that light. Unfortunately, those mice were probably killed once the experiment was over.

wfpdk:

RJ 17:
Well....that's not creepy at all.... >.>

Seriously, this should be MIT's new slogan: "MIT: Because Apparently We Really Don't Have Anything Better To Do."

MIT: we do what we must, because we can.

For the good of all of us except for the ones who are dead

wfpdk:

RJ 17:
Well....that's not creepy at all.... >.>

Seriously, this should be MIT's new slogan: "MIT: Because Apparently We Really Don't Have Anything Better To Do."

MIT: we do what we must, because we can.

For the good of all of us.
.....except the ones who are dead. :)

Edit: *points to the post above this one* Bah, got quoted AND ninja'd.

This animal testing is barbaric, totally unnecessary. I'm sure these "clever" scientists could have devised a test involving positive response in the mice instead.

The people involved should be ashamed of the monsters they have become. Truly sick.

nathan-dts:

The Rogue Wolf:
I think we're still a long, long way from mapping out exactly what neurons hold which memories, so I wouldn't run out to buy a football helmet just yet.

nathan-dts:
I know animal testing is necessary for us to progress, but reading about things like this just makes me feel bad.

Yeah, me too. It would be nice if we could implant memories of cheese and hugs. And maybe Skittles.

Not sure if serious, but yeah, with something like this, some positive memories should be associated with that light. Unfortunately, those mice were probably killed once the experiment was over.

I don't know if you can kill them - they'll never walk towards the bright light at the end on the tunnel... ;)

GoaThief:
This animal testing is barbaric, totally unnecessary. I'm sure these "clever" scientists could have devised a test involving positive response in the mice instead.

The people involved should be ashamed of the monsters they have become. Truly sick.

Would you be saying that in twenty years? Fifty years? What happens if this research actually goes somewhere? What if fifty years down the line, you can walk into an office, pay a small fee, a few hours later, you leave with the ability to speak a new language. Or you've been scarred in war and you left with memories of sunshine, lolipops and rainbows. And it all started because of animal testing.

I figure, as long as the research gives us something, we came out ahead. If it takes a few hundred even thousands of mice to make our lives better, I could care less for the mice. If it were humans, I would be more against it, well, assuming they were forced.

This would only be kind of messed up if these scientists were doing this for shits and giggles. They just felt like screwing with mice to laugh at their pain. But they're learning things to help humanity as a whole. If that is sick then we're screwed in the long run. Someone is going to end up getting hurt when it comes to progress. If we can 'hurt' some mice to help humanity, what is the problem?

"the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"
-Mr. Spock

It would be kind of nice if we could get to the point with tech like this that more complex memories could be artificially created. Think "learn advanced math theorems with their associated proofs and applications" in the process of a few minutes. Talk about saving someone some real time there.

M920CAIN:
Can it make studying easier? As in implant knowledge in my brain until it explodes?

that would be the good usage.
noone will do it.

instead what it will be used for is creating many worker drones to stop cmplaining and refusing obviuosly beneficial things like SOPA and Prism.

Beelly, Junas! Get yer tin-'ats boys, teh govern-mint is a'coming!

...

Seriously, what the hell is with all of the paranoia in these thread?! Every time someone posts someone awesome like this on the escapist, there is always 2 or 3 people who go "IT'S HORRIBLE!" and "THE GOVERNMENT WILL CONTROL US WITH IT!".

We live in 2013, goddamnit!

Comocat:
The false memory is that they are tricking the mice into remembering something that didnt happen.

Test 1 - shine light on mice

Test 2 - shine light on mice and shock them

Test 3 - Mice are put in test 1 conditons, but think its test 2 (hence the false memory)

It's crude, but think of this as eye witness testimony. You are at a diner and you recall in your testimony that there were 4 men in suits there (sit. A). But CCTV shows that there were actually 2 men and 1 women (sit. B). The research in this paper basically tricked the mice into thinking situation A was real by manipulating memory forming cells with light.

In other words, the mice arent remembering B because of A (Pavlov), they are mis-remembering A because they were tricked by B.

That's not a false memory. That's pure Pavlov. Nothing else.

If Pavlov counts as a false memory then we've been implanting them since the 1900s.

Those three tests are exactly Pavlov. A first test as control to record baseline behavior. A second test as conditioning to alter that behavior. A third test to record the effects of said conditioning. Each test repeated several times of course. That's how Pavlov works.

The example you provide has absolutely nothing to do with those three tests as there's no case of conditioning, it's completely unrelated.

The mice aren't misremembering anything, they've simply been conditioned by 100% genuine memories that when light, from the fiber-optic cable, occurs it's followed by pain. A, from the mice's perspective, completely logical and valid conclusion. There's absolutely nothing fake about that memory.

The light, from the fiber-optic cable, genuinely did occur. You can measure it. It was then followed by pain, another completely measurable and real thing. The mice, through conditioning, associated those two real events. Now when the first real event, the fiber-optic stimula, occurs again they, through conditioning, react expecting the pain to follow.

Hagi:

The light, from the fiber-optic cable, genuinely did occur. You can measure it. It was then followed by pain, another completely measurable and real thing.

You're right, the term "false memory" is a bit sensationalist in this context. From the abstract of the research paper:

http://io9.com/memory-implantation-is-now-officially-real-909746570:
Memories can be unreliable. We created a false memory in mice by optogenetically manipulating memory engram-bearing cells in the hippocampus. Dentate gyrus (DG) or CA1 neurons activated by exposure to a particular context were labeled with channelrhodopsin-2. These neurons were later optically reactivated during fear conditioning in a different context. The DG experimental group showed increased freezing in the original context, in which a foot shock was never delivered. The recall of this false memory was context-specific, activated similar downstream regions engaged during natural fear memory recall, and was also capable of driving an active fear response. Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means.

In other words, the paper is showing that you can induce a Pavlovian response towards artificial stimuli, which seems obvious but probably has never been formally tested and proven.
Also, I feel I should point out that optogenetic manipulation is just a method of stimulating neurons in brain cells; it could theoretically encode any information, and the researchers probably have no idea what sort of stimuli the mice actually experienced; it's not like shining a light in their face. It is an entirely synthetic stimulus.

Hunter Creed:
-snip-

Two points on which I have strong feelings:
1) And I hate myself even as I type this just because it sounds so cruel: I do not support replacing traumatizing memories from wars or other conflicts. Period. Those are the consequences of your actions and you have to live with them. You should have free access to therapy or virtually any other treatment, but those mental scars are yours to keep until you die. I refuse to have the consequences of war diminished.
2) Animal research is acceptable, but I would actually prefer it much more if we did more human research. It generates much more and more useful data, and it doesn't hurt animals that have nothing to do with it.

James Joseph Emerald:

In other words, the paper is showing that you can induce a Pavlovian response towards artificial stimuli, which seems obvious but probably has never been formally tested and proven.
Also, I feel I should point out that optogenetic manipulation is just a method of stimulating neurons in brain cells; it could theoretically encode any information, and the researchers probably have no idea what sort of stimuli the mice actually experienced; it's not like shining a light in their face. It is an entirely synthetic stimulus.

Thank you for that clarification. That actually had been bugging me as well.

Lil_Rimmy:
We live in 2013, goddamnit!

You have answered your own question. 2013 has been a great year for conspiracy theorists, what with the whole PRISM, AP records collection, drone war and any number of other notable government abuses of technology.

OT: And on a final note: Why exactly are we doing this again? I mean, it's kind of nifty, but what is the long-term object?

Hunter Creed:

GoaThief:
This animal testing is barbaric, totally unnecessary. I'm sure these "clever" scientists could have devised a test involving positive response in the mice instead.

The people involved should be ashamed of the monsters they have become. Truly sick.

Would you be saying that in twenty years? Fifty years? What happens if this research actually goes somewhere? What if fifty years down the line, you can walk into an office, pay a small fee, a few hours later, you leave with the ability to speak a new language. Or you've been scarred in war and you left with memories of sunshine, lolipops and rainbows. And it all started because of animal testing.

I figure, as long as the research gives us something, we came out ahead. If it takes a few hundred even thousands of mice to make our lives better, I could care less for the mice. If it were humans, I would be more against it, well, assuming they were forced.

This would only be kind of messed up if these scientists were doing this for shits and giggles. They just felt like screwing with mice to laugh at their pain. But they're learning things to help humanity as a whole. If that is sick then we're screwed in the long run. Someone is going to end up getting hurt when it comes to progress. If we can 'hurt' some mice to help humanity, what is the problem?

"the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"
-Mr. Spock

I'd outright refuse to pay for additional abilities on moral grounds due to the background, I'm not outright against animal testing say for vaccines and the like but I ask you why should these scientists be using a pain response instead of a different stimulus? I feed my pet snake mice but I don't torture the poor creatures beforehand and they are essential foodstuffs for the snake. If there was another option I'd use it.

The quote you used is also deeply flawed, society would arguably be better off without people with mental illness and violent tendencies so should we all exterminate them to make the world a "better" place? I am also questioning if this line of research will even be used for altruistic reasons, considering it's origins are quite dark imagine the evil that this memory manipulation could be used for. Hell, what if certain bodies are already a few steps ahead?

Do you realize just how scary that is?

Did they not see that episode of Torchwood?

nathan-dts:
I know animal testing is necessary for us to progress, but reading about things like this just makes me feel bad.

Does it make you feel better if I tell you there are REALLY strict regulations around using animals in research?

Both special bred animals, tons of pages you have to read through and agree with (about animal abuse, pain and ethical procedures), lots of pages with forms you have to fill out and a detailed description (that has to be approved by a committee) of your hypothesis and procedures before you're even allowed to start working on an animal?

Hagi:
...

Fair points, but the subtlety I believe is that the mice are not aware of the manipulation. They do not know they are being zapped with light, because the cellular manipulation is happening internally. So really what the researchers are doing is controlling a memory (or behavior) at the cellular level with light. At that point I believe it becomes a semantics game where this is either "conditioned response" or an "actual memory."

Regardless, even if it is just a conditioned response they have essentially bypassed the traditional routes of classical conditioning (our senses) by manipulating the brain itself.

This still has implications in eye witness testimony, for example, because there are certainly environment cues that influence (or condition) are ability to form memories.

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