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Research explores what Google can tell us about the memory web in the brain

A new study by researchers from the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at our University, in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles, has helped to untangle ‘the memory web’ by shedding light on how neurons in memory-related areas provide a long-term coding of associations between concepts.

The team also used internet search engines such as Google and Bing for exploring a much larger database of associations between concepts and then explored more comprehensively how neurons represent the intricate web of associations and memories.

The research, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that these neurons fire to relatively few concepts, which tend to be largely related.

Senior author Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga from the Centre for Systems Neuroscience explained: “We have previously proposed that these neurons – the ‘Jennifer Aniston’ neurons - are the building blocks of memory.

“They represent concepts and the links between them. In fact, these concepts and their associations are the skeleton of the memories we store. In line with this view, we tend to remember concepts and forget countless number of details. Not surprisingly, such details are not even encoded by these neurons.”

First author Emanuela De Falco, who is currently finishing her PhD at our University, added: ”I am really glad I had the chance to do my PhD in such a fascinating area of research, having the opportunity to record directly from neurons of patients and integrating results obtained with these neural recordings with behavioural and web-based results. I found it incredibly interesting to see how, after thousands of web searches, the web metric was actually able to tell us something about the neurons we recorded.”

  • The University of Leicester conducts fundamental and applied research across all disciplines creating a strong culture of interaction, sharing and learning, helping to deliver an outstanding education for its students.
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