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"Short Waves" -- The Discovery Files

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A new study reveals critical new information on how the human brain stores and maintains short-term memories the ability to remember ideas, thoughts, images and objects for seconds or minutes. The findings involve a type of brain cell, called a persistently active neuron, that is vital for supporting short-term memory.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Hold that thought.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: parking garage sounds, light traffic) Now, where did I park my car? That short-term memory should have started to form in my brain 20 minutes ago when I got here. Level C? Level D? Neuroscientists at Cedars-Sinai can't help me remember, but in a new study, they have uncovered processes that deal with how the brain creates and maintains short-term memory.

The study involved a type of brain cell called a persistently active neuron. Researchers monitored the electrical activity of individual neurons while participants performed a memory test. Results showed these neurons remain active for several seconds when a person is required to memorize an object or image and recall it later. The larger the increase in the neurons' electrical activity, the more likely the study participant was to remember the image. When the neurons' activity was weak, the participant forgot the image and lost the memory.

The work could help lead to improved treatments for epilepsy and memory disorders.

Now that specific neurons that support short-term memory have been discovered, the Cedars-Sinai team says we now have a way to study their interaction.

Just not soon enough to help me find my car. I should have parked in the short-term lot.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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