Neurons in the Brain Tune into Different Frequencies for Different Spatial Memory Tasks


Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The research, published in the journal Neuron on April 17, may provide insight into the cognitive and memory disruptions seen in diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, in which gamma waves are disturbed.

Previous research has shown that the same brain region is activated whether we’re storing memories of a new place or recalling past places we’ve been.

“Many of us leave our cars in a parking garage on a daily basis. Every morning, we create a memory of where we parked our car, which we retrieve in the evening when we pick it up,” said Laura Colgin, assistant professor of neuroscience and member of the Center for Learning and Memory in The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Natural Sciences. “How then do our brains distinguish between current location and the memory of a location? Our new findings suggest a mechanism for distinguishing these different representations.”

Memory involving location is stored in an area of the brain called the hippocampus. The neurons in the hippocampus that store spatial memories (such as the location where you parked your car) are called place cells. The same set of place cells are activated both when a new memory of a location is stored and, later, when the memory of that location is recalled or retrieved.

When the hippocampus forms a new spatial memory, it receives sensory information about your current location from a brain region called the entorhinal cortex. When the hippocampus recalls a past location, it retrieves the stored spatial memory from a subregion of the hippocampus called CA3.

The entorhinal cortex and CA3 transmit these different types of information using different frequencies of gamma waves. The entorhinal cortex uses fast gamma waves, which have a frequency of about 80 Hz (about the same frequency as a bass E note played on a piano). In contrast, CA3 sends its signals on slow gamma waves, which have a frequency of about 40 Hz.

Colgin and her colleagues hypothesized that fast gamma waves promote encoding of recent experiences, while slow gamma waves support memory retrieval.

They tested these hypotheses by recording gamma waves in the hippocampus, together with electrical signals from place cells, in rats navigating through a simple environment. They found that place cells represented the rat’s current location when cells were active on fast gamma waves. When cells were active on slow gamma waves, place cells represented locations in the direction that the rat was heading.

“These findings suggest that fast gamma waves promote current memory encoding, such as the memory of where we just parked,” said Colgin. “However, when we need to remember where we are going, like when finding our parked car later in the day, the hippocampus tunes into slow gamma waves.”

Because gamma waves are seen in many areas of the brain besides the hippocampus, Colgin’s findings may generalize beyond spatial memory. The ability for neurons to tune into different frequencies of gamma waves provides a way for the brain to traffic different types of information across the same neuronal circuits.

Colgin said one of the next steps in her team’s research will be to apply technologies that induce different types of gamma waves in rats performing memory tasks. She imagines that they will be able to improve new memory encoding by inducing fast gamma waves. Conversely, she expects that inducing slow gamma waves will be detrimental to the encoding of new memories. Those slow gamma waves should trigger old memories, which would interfere with new learning.

Support for this research was provided by the Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. Colgin’s co-authors at The University of Texas at Austin were graduate student Kevin Bieri and research assistant Katelyn Bobbitt.




Neurons in the Brain Tune into Different Frequencies for Different Spatial Memory Tasks

12 Responses to Neurons in the Brain Tune into Different Frequencies for Different Spatial Memory Tasks

  1. Natasha(14007593) May 4, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    Wow all I can say is that our brains are amazing! It is really interesting to know how our brain process and store our memories. I do wonder why some people remember more and remember faster, but I do think that it is linked to brain exercise. Which does sound strange but I know you can do certain things to keep your brain active and link the things you want to remember with a certain image. think this will lead to more research in the brains functions(all of its functions) and maybe will help to cure some of the brains illnesses. I also learned that our brain uses a wave length to remember the newest information and then stores it in a certain area, whereas the older information is stored in a different area. I do think that when you forget something, like where you parked your car, it is because the wave that helps you remember was interrupted and caused you to forget. Knowing that our brains use wavelengths to store memories and remember will help a lot with our future research and this will maybe lead to research to improve the time the wave takes to help you remember and improve the wave itself, which might lead to cures for Alzheimer’s and things like amnesia.

  2. u14008182 April 30, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    Is it possible that the way the brain can access gamma rays account for different intellectual levels in humans such as people who retain information quicker and how some people are able to remember more than others can. Research into this field can not only help with Alzheimer’s but also possibly with varies learning disabilities such as Dyslexia and Autism. Gamma rays are perceived to be very harmful so surely research into is will harm the subject being tested as well as the researchers working in this field?

  3. u14014442 Anneri Lotter April 26, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    This is quite great news. Although this is still very experimental and it entails a great deal of guessing it can enhance our understanding of the brain and could help to treat alzheimer’s and schizophrenia.This is quite fascinating research and we know so little of the brain. Understanding how the brain works is quite an important task that needs a lot of attention.

  4. u14055997 April 25, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    Continuous research on this topic could possibly give a solution to people suffering from diseases as the Alzheimer’s disease as well as schizophrenia. Over the years technology has tremendously improved, just considering bionic eyes in restoring sight for people suffering with severe eye disease, newly-developed drugs called “B-cell receptor pathway inhibitors” have been highly effective in treating low-grade B-cell lymphomas and leukaemia’s in clinical trials and the use of human stool transplants by gastroenterologist in addition to treating patients who suffer from Clostridium difficile and doesn’t respond to traditional drug therapy. Only to name a few. An increase in new technology also helps increase medical knowledge giving researchers bigger abilities to explore and find cures to presently incureable diseases. This could be the future in medicine giving solutions to people suffering from these particular diseases. I strongly believe further research and discoveries on how the brain functions will lead to answers on a few unanswered questions.

  5. Caitlin Palm April 24, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    The relationship between gamma rays and retrieval or storage of spatial memory is quite interesting.
    The link drawn between disruptions of gamma rays and schizophrenia explains why a patient with this disease exhibits symptoms of delusions and illogical thought patterns. I understand that the true cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Perhaps if Colgin is able to prove that inducing fast gamma rays will improve storage of present spatial memory, perhaps inducing gamma rays may be a future therapy for schizophrenic patients to improve their focus on their present tasks.
    However since gamma rays is hazardous to humans this may not be a practical therapy, but perhaps scientists can find a way to minimize the effects of the harmful rays or mimic any positive results achieved in the therapy through other safer means.

  6. 14020892 April 22, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    It is absolutely fascinating what our brains are capable of. Incredibly our brains have the ability to tune into different gamma ray frequencies and therefore let us retain memories from many different times. I strongly believe that we don’t know how complex our brain is and how much our brain really can do and further research will only help in us understanding. Further more, research conducted on the influences of technology is also very important, as technology in the future will play a bigger and bigger role in our brain development.
    This topic answers a lot of questions concerning memory and how our brains are able to store facts and experiences, but it also raises questions : why do some people have the ability to remember more than others? And does this also relate to the memories of smell or only place?
    The topic of how our brains function is a very interesting topic that will lead to more experiments and discussions.

  7. Twane Bester (14009804) April 22, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    It is fascinating to read about how some parts of the brain really works. The functioning of our brains are extremely complicated to understand. This research has answered some of my questions, but it has also raised a lot of questions. Questions regarding Alzheimer’s and other memory diseases. Will this research be able to help us find a way to solve the problems in the brain which causes memory loss? Will they find a way to correct the disturbed gamma rays which causes memory loss? This research has also made me think about why some of us remember things more easily than others. This is the first time I’ve read that different memories are recalled using slow or fast gamma rays depending on the memory. It interests me to know that wave lengths also play an important role in how our brains work. Research like this regarding the brain and how it works will open many new doors for us with regard to understanding how we as humans function.

  8. Tanya Haar-14020892 April 21, 2014 at 7:07 am #

    It is absolutely fascinating what our brains are capable of. It is incredible that our brains have the ability to tune into different gamma ray frequencies and therefore let us retain memories from many different times. I strongly believe that we don’t know how complex our brain is and how much our brain really can do and further research will only help with this. Further more research conducted on the influences of technology is also very important, as technology in the future will play a bigger and bigger role.
    This topic answers a lot of questions concerning memory and how our brains are able to store all of it, but it also raises questions : why do some people have the ability to remember more than others? And does this also relate to the memories of smell or only place?
    The topic of how our brains function is a very interesting topic that will lead to more experiments and discussions.

  9. Kedibone Scheppers April 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    This topic is very interesting. I’ve always wondered about how the brain remembers things. it is also interesting know that specific waves in the brain help a persons short term memory. this article also leaves me wondering about how people forget thing like where they parked their car or where the car keys are so easily. Does it have to do with how much attention a person is paying or is it completely natural?

  10. Amir Anwary u14033021 April 18, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    This discovery does answer various questions as to the functioning of the brain in terms of it allowing us to retain and then the recall information in the form of memories. The ability of neurons to tune into different gamma ray frequencies allowing our brains to be more dynamic in terms of gamma ray movement is truly an amazing characteristic which we possess. There are however various questions that still have to be answered, for example, why are some people able to retain more information than others(have a better memory)? Does it have to do with the slow gamma rays, or does it lie within the structure of the neurons?

  11. Lelanie van der Walt April 18, 2014 at 4:08 am #

    u14008913
    It is facinating how the brain functions to recall everyday information. We tend to take the functions of the brain for granted.It is important to do more research of the brain to understand its functions fully.It is also interesting to know that the different gamma waves promote short term memories. More research of the brain could lead to improving intelegance of the human beings. It may lead to bigger ussage of the brain’s capacity

  12. Vhulenda Netshapala April 18, 2014 at 2:55 am #

    u14286387
    Wow! This is fascinating. I didn’t know that the brain had the hippocampus but I have always wondered how the brain works as it is the one that helps us to function and carry on with our day to day activities. A lot of things go on in our mind daily yet we are able to remember all these things. I do believe that more research will lead to more insight on diseases such as the Alzheimer’s disease and will help us find out what to do to bring back memory to people with Amnesia.

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