memory mechanisms

Matt Jones jonesmat at ohsu.edu
Tue Dec 2 12:42:13 EST 1997

In article <antonelli.2.3.348437C7 at pop.service.ohio-state.edu> Karen,
antonelli.2 at pop.service.ohio-state.edu writes:
>"How is memory encoded in the brain?"

There are some strong candidate mechanisms for how information might be
"stored". The most popular one is LTP (Long Term Potentiation, see also
LTD for Long Term Depression), which is a phenomenon whereby certain
types of activity at a synapse result in long lasting modifications of
synaptic strength or reliability. 

Another possibility is that new connections between neurons or between
different parts of the brain are made during learning.

But these things are "storage" mechanisms, not "encoding".

Encoding refers to the conversion of "information" from one form into
another. In order to know how memories are encoded, we will have to know
how information in the form of our experiences is converted into a
specific neural language (i.e., spike patterns, patterns of spactial
activity, etc.). We will also need to demonstrate what the rules
governing this transformation are, and be able to show that there is some
kind of "mapping" of sensory phenomena (experience) onto neural activity.
There also must be rules for "decoding" the stored information into a
form that we can use to guide our actions. Otherwise it wouldn't really
be a memory, it would just be information taking up space.

Most neuroscientists are probably confident that such mappings exists and
can be figured out, but I'm not sure that that has happened yet.



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