Mice Playing VR Games Reveal Secrets Of Long-Term Memory
While the metaverse seems to be imploding in places like (ironic) meta, it seems like it’s picking up steam from an unexpected user base: mice. Or at least laboratory mice used in scientific experiments.
In a new study published Thursday in the journal cellNeuroscientists at Rockefeller University in New York taught a group of mice to play VR games to study their memory. Not only were the creatures able to learn how to gamble successfully, but their insane gaming abilities may have revealed the way long-term memory is stored in the brain.
Unfortunately, the mice didn’t play games that are popular with other animals demise or Pokemon. Instead, the study authors created a digital maze for the creatures to navigate. Instead of forcing the mice to wear a goofy miniaturized headset à la Metas Oculus, the VR maze was projected onto a screen in front of the mice as they walked around on a styrofoam ball.
As the mice traversed the maze, they encountered various stimuli such as sounds, smells, and sights. Like any good game, this one had multiple endings. At best, the player mouse could get to unlimited sugar water to drink from a spout. At the mediocre end, there might just be a few drops of the sugary water as a reward. And worst-case scenario, he could get a lousy puff of air blown in his face.
“We structured the virtual reality tasks to require a lot of engagement from the mouse to start trying to run through the mazes and get the rewards,” Josue Regalado, neuroscientist at Rockefeller University and co- The study’s author said in a statement. “The more explicit and cognitive the task, the more we can see how different brain regions are involved.”
The stimulus allowed the mice to learn the maze over the course of their experiments. Eventually, they would anticipate either the sugar water reward or the air blast by running faster towards it or slowing down to arm themselves.
As they played, the mice’s brains were also hooked up to a new and sophisticated imaging device that uses fiber optic cables and lasers, which allowed the researchers to monitor their neural activity – and disrupt specific regions of the brain.
For example, when the researchers used lasers to inhibit the mice’s hippocampus as they navigated the maze, the creatures fared far worse, as both their long- and short-term memories were impaired. When they did the same with a region called the anterior thalamus, the team discovered that the mice’s short-term memory was preserved – but was unable to transfer information into their long-term memory.
However, when the anterior thalamus was stimulated with the lasers, the mice’s ability to retain information over the long term improved. In particular, the mice were better able to remember the “okay end” of the game, where they were only given a few drops of sugar water. It turned out that the anterior thalamus actually plays an important role in the formation and storage of long-term memory.
“We have identified a circuit in the brain that is important for identifying which memories are important and how they are filtered into longer-term storage,” Andrew Toader, another Rockefeller neuroscientist and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Once the mice start learning a task, the thalamus performs this selection process, choosing which memories in the cortex will be stabilized over the long term.”
Think of it like your favorite band. You probably couldn’t pinpoint all the times you’ve been listening to your favorite band on Spotify or Apple Music in the last month. However, you can say exactly when you last saw them in concert and how it made you feel. The experience was more rewarding — and scientists think this may play a big part in how the anterior thalamus handles that memory.
“We think that something like adrenaline or dopamine might help the thalamus say, ‘okay, I care about this memory, it’s not that important,'” said Priya Rajasethupathy, a Rockefeller neuroscientist and study co-author in a statement . “And we still don’t understand how punctual or continuous the process of memory stabilization is, whether it occurs in one step or a few, or develops continuously over a lifetime.”
Beyond potential mouse-based twitch channels in the future, research could one day lead to technologies or treatments for human memory. Of course, more research is needed in human subjects to confirm whether or not the anterior thalamus has the same effects on the human brain. But the study is a strong indicator that the region of the brain plays a massive role in how we remember things over the long term.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/mice-playing-vr-games-reveal-secrets-of-long-term-memory Mice Playing VR Games Reveal Secrets Of Long-Term Memory