Much like a rewinding video, cells in the brains of rats immediately replay new experiences in reverse, shows a study published online this week by Nature. This discovery might help to explain why we learn tasks better if there are breaks in between repetitions, why hyperactivity might cause learning problems and why simply being awake but resting can help learning.
Researchers already know that cells in the hippocampus of rats rerun patterns of neural activity when they are asleep. Now, David Foster and Matthew Wilson have examined what happens in these cells when the animals are awake, as rats run up and down a track, pausing at each end.
The researchers show that hippocampal cells fire in a particular sequence as the rat runs and that this sequence of firing is repeated backwards when they pause. This may help to etch a memory of the route into the brain, the authors say.
Dr David J Foster (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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