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Tools to control human memory

Altering or even creating human memory may soon be possible as the scientists including one of Indian-origin are ‘closing in’ on areas where memory is stored and a technique for controlling these memories.

Neuroscientists at MIT have discovered a chemical way to make mice forget bad memories.
By deactivating a ‘memory gene’ - Npas 4 - they found that mice would ‘forget’ their fear of a chamber where they had previously been given electric shocks, the Daily Mail reported.

To look into the genetic mechanisms of memory formation, researchers gave mice a mild electric shock when they entered a specific chamber.

Within minutes, the mice learn to fear the chamber, and the next time they entered it, they froze. The gene - Npas4 - activates strongly when this happens and when the researchers removed the gene for Npas4, they found that mice could not remember their fearful conditioning.

The research could also lead to understanding where memories are stored in the brain - right down to which individual cells store each one.

“We’re hunting for the memory, and we think we can use this gene to mark where it is,” Kartik Ramamoorthi said.

When an individual experiences a new event, his or her brain encodes a memory of it by altering the connections between neurons.

When that happens, many genes activate. But one of them seems to be predominantly vital - a ‘master gene’ for memory.

The gene is mainly active in the hippocampus, a brain structure known to be significant in forming long-term memories.

BP drug could be effective treatment for lung diseases Scientists have found that a commonly prescribed blood pressure medicine, losartan (Cozaar), prevents almost all of the lung damage caused from two months of exposure to cigarette smoke in mice. The treatment specifically targeted lung tissue breakdown, airway wall thickening, inflammation and lung over-expansion.

 As a result of the experiments, efforts already are under way at Johns Hopkins for a clinical trial of the drug in people with smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the long-term consequence of smoking and for which, until now, there are no known potential treatments to prevent or repair the resulting lung damage.

 “The results of our study in mice suggest that losartan or similar drugs could serve as an effective treatment for smoking-related lung diseases in humans,” said study senior investigator for the animal experiments, Enid Neptune, M.D.

 “And because these drugs are already approved for use in the United States as safe and effective treatments for hypertension, incorporating them into our treatment regimen for COPD would be quite rapid,” added Neptune, a pulmonologist and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Gestures help grasp new languages more easily

People learn new languages more easily when words are accompanied by gestures, a new study has found. For the new study, Manuela Macedonia and Thomas Knosche from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, enrolled 20 volunteers for a six-day course to learn “Vimmi”.

Vimmi is an artificial language designed to make study results easier to interpret, New Scientist reported. The volunteers were taught half of the material using spoken and written instructions and exercises, while the other half was taught with body movements to accompany each word, which the students were asked to act out.

The researchers found that the students significantly remembered more of the words that were taught to them with movement, and used them more readily when creating new sentences.

They were surprised to find that the trick also worked for abstract words like “rather” that have no obvious gestural equivalent.

Based on fMRI scans, Macedonia and Knosche argue that the enactment of words helps memory by creating a more complex representation that makes it more easily retrieved.

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