The electrical stimulation of the hippocampus in in-vivo experiments activates precisely the same receptor complexes as learning or memory recall. This has been discovered for the first time and the finding has now been published in the highly respected journal Brain Structure Function. "This may form the basis for the use of medications aimed at powering up dormant or less active memory cells," says Gert Lubec, Head of Fundamental Research / Neuroproteomics at the University Department of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the MedUni Vienna.
"This discovery has far-reaching consequences both for the molecular understanding of memory formation and the understanding of the clinical electrical stimulation, which is already possible, of areas of the brain for therapeutic purposes," says the MedUni Vienna researcher. Similar principles are currently already being used in the field of deep brain stimulation. With this technology, an implanted device delivers electronic impulses to the patient's brain. This physical stimulation allows neuronal circuits to be influenced that control both behaviour and memory.
The latest findings very much form part of the highly controversial subject of "cognitive enhancement". Scientists are currently discussing the possibility of improving mental capacity through the use of drugs - including in healthy subjects of all age groups, but especially in patients with age-related impairments of cognitive processes.
With regard to the study design, two electrodes were implanted into the brain in an animal model. One transferred electrical impulses to stimulate the hippocampus, while the other transferred the electrical signals away. "These electrical potentials are the electrical equivalent of memory and are known as LTP (Long Term Potentiation)," explains Lubec. The generation of LTP in an in-vivo experiment was accompanied by specific changes in the receptor complexes - the same receptor complexes that are also activated during learning and memory formation.