A study carried out by researchers at New York University has shown that even brief periods of exposure to sudden sounds or mild trauma has the potential to form long-term memories in a specific region of the brain.
The research, carried out by a team from the Langone Medical Center involved rats, and is believed to be the first study of its type to explore the connection between hearing and memory formation. It’s also proved to be the first study that’s been able to successfully improve the rats’ ability to hear by manipulating the locus coeruleus, the centrally located brain region known for releasing the ‘fight or flight’ hormone.
By carrying out a series of tests, the team were able to gain a greater insight into the functions of the locus coeruleus, which works as a powerful amplifier, controlling how and where sudden sounds and traumatizing events are stored in the brain. Furthermore, it’s hoped that further studies will enable the researchers to gain a better understanding of how they can improve hearing and memory in people who have suffered hearing loss, in addition to minimizing the memories that are central in disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
During the four-year long study, the team stimulated the locus coeruleus in the rats while playing them a sound and giving them a food based reward. Once the researchers were sure that the rats associated that sound with food, they played it at a lower volume, while recording the associated brain activity. Even when the sound was played are barely audible levels, the locus coeruleus and auditory cortex was still seen to respond. The researchers believe that the results clearly demonstrate that memories are encoded by the locus coeruleus.
As a result of their study, the researchers have managed to shed some light on how and where traumatizing events stick in our minds. Their work may also clarify why it can take us years to remember certain bits of information, and yet sudden shocks or events can find a permanent place in our memories within seconds. The results of the study also have the potential to explain how electrical impulses can be put to better use to improve hearing, and how negative memories can be reduced to lessen the symptoms arising from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
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