Manipulating memory with light
Just look into the light: not quite, but researchers at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology have used light to erase specific memories in mice, and proved a basic theory of how different parts of the brain work together to retrieve episodic memories.
Optogenetics, pioneered by Karl Diesseroth at Stanford University, is a new technique for manipulating and studying nerve cells using light. The techniques of optogenetics are rapidly becoming the standard method for investigating brain function.
Kazumasa Tanaka, Brian Wiltgen and colleagues at UC Davis applied the technique to test a long-standing idea about memory retrieval. For about 40 years, Wiltgen said, neuroscientists have theorized that retrieving episodic memories — memories about specific places and events — involves coordinated activity between the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus, a small structure deep in the brain.
"The theory is that learning involves processing in the cortex, and the hippocampus reproduces this pattern of activity during retrieval, allowing you to re-experience the event," Wiltgen said. If the hippocampus is damaged, patients can lose decades of memories.