If you’ve ever seen the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the way the characters choose to have memories erased from their brain. They visit a doctor, wear a special piece of headgear, and poof! All the bad memories are gone.
Can this be done in real life? Well, the answer is complicated...
Although we are a long way away from being able to selectively erase memories in humans, researchers have done so in rats for over a decade. How do they do this?
Firstly, making a memory requires protein synthesis, among other things. Proteins are the fundamental building blocks of your body and your brain. There are millions of different kinds of proteins, each with its own highly specialized function. When your brain encodes a memory for the long term, your neurons make specific new proteins to form stronger links between the activated neurons to stabilize the memory in your brain. This is called ‘memory consolidation’.
It turns out, however, that our memories are not like video cameras that record our actual experiences. Instead, throughout our lives, our brains are constantly updating our memories with new information. This occurs through a process of the destabilization of the wiring of those neurons that store a particular memory. When a memory is reactivated, it is removed from its stable state, allowing it to be edited.
Because memories are so delicate, neuroscientists have been examining the possibility of removing ‘bad’ (something scary, sad, or upsetting) memories that humans encounter over their lifetimes.
Neuroscience research using mice has found that by stopping protein synthesis of a special receptor (called an AMPA receptor) right after a mouse experiences an electrical shock to its foot, it is possible to remove the negative memory!
Researchers have also been able to remove bad memories in humans using small amounts of electricity to the brain during the reconsolidation of memories. In addition, therapies involving specialized medication to alter protein formation for memory development — as well as talk-therapies — have been found to be useful in alleviating the negative memories in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or severe anxiety.
While the process of removing memories remains an area of interest for researchers, it is important to remember that our memories, good and bad, are what make us who we are. As a result, the ability for humans to remove their memories should be carefully considered because many of our bad memories not only serve to teach us more about ourselves and our world, they also help us to grow as individuals across our lifetimes by leading us to discover new life pathways, environments, and opportunities.
Without these bad memories, we would never have had the opportunity to learn how to develop the courage and expertise to overcome hectic life challenges, nor the ability to recognize our weaknesses and learn how to improve upon those aspects of ourselves that make us so very hopelessly, undeniably, and characteristically, human.
For more information on this thought-provoking subject, be sure to check out the following links below:
For the longest time, neuroscientists thought that human beings could not develop any new brain cells after birth. This is because most human brain cell birth (or neurogenesis), occurs before humans are born, during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Once a human is born, the brain’s development shifts its focus to creating new connections between its pre-existing cells or by pruning unnecessary ones. But in the 1960s, scientists found something remarkable: rats could generate new neurons after birth! It was not until the late 1990s, however, that evidence of neurogenesis was confirmed in adult mammals, including humans.
Present research suggests that human neurogenesis occurs in two areas of the brain, including the hippocampus. Among its many roles, the hippocampus is a major center for memory.
This discovery was ground-breaking because it offers new possibilities and hopes of repairing damaged tissue in neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injury. Some experimental success has even been found in animals!
Nevertheless, there is still much to discover about the potential uses of human neurogenesis.
These achievements are only the beginning of a longer journey to better understand the fundamental mechanisms behind how the brain develops over the entire human lifespan.
Fascinated by the read? To learn more about the story of neurogenesis, click on the link here.
The presence of healthy bacteria in your gut has been known to help with digestion and many other aspects of gut health. However, you may be surprised to know that these same microbes can also affect the health of your brain!
The collection of microbes found in all individuals is known as the microbiome. The microbiome produces many molecules that can travel and talk to the brain directly. The molecules do so by acting on certain brain cell receptors or acting as signals to activate the body’s immune system. When the body’s immune system (a system that protects the body from infections) reacts to the chemical messages produced by the microbiome, brain cells are affected. These reactions, in turn, result in changes in brain health.
Some of these immune cells include microglia, a type of brain cell that is particularly sensitive to molecules produced by the microbiome. In fact, researchers suggest that microglia play a critical role in early brain development, by shaping how neurons grow and form the connections that create our fully functioning brains.
Interestingly, as your diet is ultimately what affects the microbiome, it would seem that the old adage, “you are what you eat”, had it right all along; especially with respect to the brain!
For more cool resources on this topic, be sure to check out the links below:
BrainReach is a non-profit outreach program that provides monthly interactive neuroscience lessons for students in Grades 4 and 9. If you are a passionate and enthusiastic graduate student who would like to teach children about the brain and cultivate their enthusiasm for science, please consider volunteering with BrainReach this year!
You can register to volunteer at: https://forms.gle/7C7QxLJo83u32jsH8. The deadline to register is October 9th, 2020.
Due to COVID-19, all sessions will be held via Zoom, beginning in January. We will provide additional training for how to conduct lessons and activities using Zoom.
For more information, please see the attached flier,
visit our website at:
or email us at:
Dear BrainReach Community, Teachers, and Students,
We hope that you are all doing well and staying safe!
We understand that this ongoing pandemic has changed quite a lot in society, from online classes to rather confusing social dynamics. Being able to understand how brains are adapting to life during a pandemic is crucial for everyone, most especially our community’s students.
As this teaching year will be like no other, we at BrainReach Elementary and High School are dedicated to continuing our mission of supporting teachers and students throughout the city of Montreal and to hopefully inspire our students to become interested in the marvelous complexity of the brain! It is for this reason that BrainReach will be returning with updated teaching tools, materials, activities and support specifically targeted for an online format as we remain dedicated to continuing to encourage students of all ages to engage with science in order to better understand and appreciate the natural world!
If this sounds good with you, then please stay tuned for more information coming your way!
We thank you all for your continued support and look forward to seeing you all soon! Should you have any questions, please be sure to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you only the very best, and sending you our warm regards,
BrainReach Elementary and BrainReach High School team-
Please help BrainReach North make neuroscience education more accessible to students in remote and Indigenous communities today!
With your support, BrainReach North can:
BrainReach North provides free, bilingual neuroscience teaching materials that complements the Quebec educational curriculum for teachers in remote Indigenous communities; tapping into students’ natural curiosity and sparking their interest in science.
If you believe, as we do, that access to science education enrichment should be available to students in all communities, and that everyone deserves to experience the joy of learning, no matter where they live, please support our volunteers and donate today at:
Pain is the unpleasant feeling you get in response to touching a hot cookie tray or hitting your finger with a hammer. Pain is a warning of potential damage to your body. We have specialized nerves in the skin that are pain sensing, and are called “nociceptors”. When pain lasts longer than the threat from the environment (the cookie tray or the hammer), it becomes chronic pain. This chronic pain prevents people from doing their normal daily activities. Research is still being done on how and why pain becomes chronic.
Did you know that some people cannot feel pain? There is a small percentage of people in the world that cannot feel pain due to a mutation in their genome. This might seem great at first, but in fact people with congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) have difficulties in everyday life to ensure that they are not in danger of hurting themselves. Imagine not being able to feel pain in response to touching a hot cookie tray? Then you would have a more severe burn. So our ability to feel pain allows us to protect ourselves.
Click here to learn more about pain.
A large portion of the world’s population is bilingual. In the past, some people thought that bilingualism might interfere with one’s first language, but it’s easier to learn languages young, during the critical period. This is a window of time where the brain is primed and receptive to linguistic input and make sense of it, ultimately learning to reproduce it through speech (other sensory and motor skills have critical periods, too). It’s hard to know exactly when and why this window closes, but brain changes during puberty may be involved. Languages learned early in life enjoy a privileged spot in the brain: their effects persist, even if they are later lost!
In recent years, researchers have suggested that there is a bilingual advantage in general cognition. We found that bilinguals are better at certain types of cognitive control, and are protected against the onset of dementia, showing symptoms about four years later than monolinguals. Montreal in particular is a great place to study bilingualism because of its multilingual environment. Many projects are currently being conducted to better understand language in the brain.
Concussions can be dramatic or go almost unnoticed, but all cause some amount of long-term damage. Recent studies have shown that concussions may affect the white matter in the brain: the superhighways that carry information from one brain area to another. People who have previously had concussions are at a greater risk of future concussions, and a study from Purdue University found that even football players who didn’t get concussions suffered a small decline in performance on some cognitive tests for each impact on their helmets.
Read more here.
There are different ways to look inside the brain, each with different levels of risk. One of the most popular research tools is MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. This method uses a large magnet and some radio waves to look at the different tissues of the brain. MRI is not considered to pose a significant risk unless you have certain types of metal in your body, like a pacemaker. A second type of imaging is PET, or positron emission tomography. This type of imaging involves injecting a small amount of a radioactive tracer into the blood and tracking it as it arrives in the brain. PET does expose an individual to radiation, but the radioactivity injected for a PET scan (5mSv) is well under the Health Canada yearly limit (50mSv). In clinical practice, computed tomography (CT) scans are much more common, especially in neurosurgery and neurology. This is probably because CT scans are faster and less expensive than MRI scans. CT scans use x-rays; the radiation from 1 CT scan is roughly equivalent to the amount a person is exposed to in 2.7 years of daily life.
A BIT OF NEUROSCIENCE HISTORY...
In 1985, the Montreal Neurological Institute (affectionately called The Neuro) acquired the very fist MRI scanner in the country. This past February 2019, The Neuro acquired Canada's very first full-body 7-Tesla Siemens scanner, the most powerful MRI scanner currently in the country. It goes without saying that The Neuro always strives to be on top of the most recent technology when it comes to looking into people's brains!