Scientists find way to plant false memories

A person starts to have flashbacks to an earlier event, but he is unsure if they ever really happened, and no one else is able to confirm them.  Did they really happen, or could this be the result of a scientific experiment that involved planting false memories in his brain?

Sounds like the plot to science fiction story, doesn't it?  But it may not be so far off.  Researchers from M.I.T say they have been able to plant false memories into the brains of mice and say the fakes are “dead ringers” for authentic memories.  The scientists identified cells from a memory trace – known as engrams – and were able to activate these "memories" using optogenetics—a technique through which researchers can selectively turn cells on or off by using light.

In order to plant the fake memories in mice, the researchers engineered the animals’ brains so that they would produce a protein called channelrhodopsin whenever a gene necessary for memory formation was turned on.  Channelrhodopsin is a protein that activates neurons when stimulated by light and is active in the hippocampus of the mice.  After three days of testing, the scientists found that they were able to "teach" fear in the memories of mice, despite the fact that the animals had never experienced the particular situations as they had remembered them.

For now, this experimentation is focused strictly on mice.

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