Using Virtual Reality to Identify Brain Areas Involved in Memory

Virtual reality is helping neuroscientists at the University of California, Davis, get new insight into how different brain areas assemble memories in context. In a study published Jan. 18 in the journal Nature Communications, graduate student Halle Dimsdale-Zucker and colleagues used a virtual reality environment to train subjects, then showed that different areas of the hippocampus are activated for different types of memories.

It's well known that one memory can trigger related memories. We remember specific events with context - when and where it happened, who was there. Different memories can have specific context, as well as information that is the same between memories - for example, events that occurred in the same location.

Dimsdale-Zucker and Professor Charan Ranganath at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology are interested in how the brain assembles all the pieces of these memories. They use functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to look for brain areas that are activated as memories are recalled, especially in the hippocampus, a small structure in the center of the brain.

For this study, Dimsdale-Zucker used architectural sketching software to build houses in a 3-D virtual environment. The subjects watched a series of videos in which they went into one house then another. In each video, different objects were positioned within the houses. The subjects therefore memorized the objects in two contexts: which video (episodic memory) and which house (spatial memory).

In the second phase of the study, the subjects were asked to try to remember the objects while they were scanned by fMRI.

Being asked about the objects spontaneously reactivated contextual information, Dimsdale-Zucker said. Different regions of the hippocampus were activated for different kinds of information: One area, CA1, was associated with representing shared information about contexts (e.g., objects that were in the same video); another, distinct area was linked to representing differences in context.

"What's exciting is that it is intuitive that you can remember a unique experience, but the hippocampus is also involved in linking similar experiences," Dimsdale-Zucker said. "You need both to be able to remember."

Another interesting finding was that in this study, the hippocampus was involved in episodic memories linking both time and space, she said. Conventional thinking has been that the hippocampus codes primarily for spatial memories, for example those involved in navigation.

Virtual reality makes it possible to carry out controlled laboratory experiments with episodic memory, Dimsdale-Zucker said. A better understanding of how memories are formed, stored and recalled could eventually lead to better diagnosis and treatment for memory problems in aging or degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Halle R Dimsdale-Zucker, Maureen Ritchey, Arne D Ekstrom, Andrew P Yonelinas, Charan Ranganath.
CA1 and CA3 differentially support spontaneous retrieval of episodic contexts within human hippocampal subfields.
Nature Communications 9, Article number: 294 (2018). doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-02752-1.

Most Popular Now

Gait Assessed with Body-Worn Sensors may…

Body-worn sensors used at home and in clinic by people with mild Alzheimer's to assess walking could offer a cost-effective way to detect early disease and monitor progression of the...

Applications for the G4A Global Accelera…

Founded in 2013 in Berlin initially giving out grants to innovative healthcare apps, G4A Accelerator is now a global program dedicated to helping innovative health & care startups grow and...

Siemens Healthineers Fully on Track to M…

Siemens Healthineers AG has posted good business figures in the first quarter following its successful initial public offering on March 16, 2018. Year-over-year revenue was up four percent at EUR...

How to Build GDPR and HIPAA Compliant He…

The adoption of cloud and mobile technologies in healthcare is disrupting the services delivery models, and responsibilities and risks for involved actors. By their very nature, eHealth applications collect and...

Computers Equal Radiologists in Assessin…

Automated breast-density evaluation was just as accurate in predicting women's risk of breast cancer, found and not found by mammography, as subjective evaluation done by radiologists, in a study led...

The Big Ethical Questions for Artificial…

AI in healthcare is developing rapidly, with many applications currently in use or in development in the UK and worldwide. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines the current and potential...

Consultation: Transformation Health and …

The present report provides an analysis of the results of consultation activities carried out by the European Commission in preparation of a Communication on the Transformation of Health and Care...

Novartis Launches FocalView App, Providi…

Novartis announced the launch of its FocalView app, an ophthalmic digital research platform created with ResearchKit. FocalView aims to allow researchers to track disease progression by collecting real-time, self-reported data...

International Masters's in Medical Infor…

The Master of Science Program in Medical Informatics (MMI) at European Campus Rottal-Inn (ECRI)in Pfarrkirchen - a branch of the Deggendorf University of Applied Sciences (THD - Technische Hochschule Deggendorf)...

Data in the EU: Commission Steps Up Effo…

The European Commission is putting forward a set of measures to increase the availability of data in the EU, building on previous initiatives to boost the free flow of non-personal...

Philips Expands its Sleep & Respirat…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, today announced that it has acquired NightBalance, a digital health scale-up company based in the Netherlands, that has...

A New Way to Watch Brain Activity in Act…

It's a neuroscientist's dream: being able to track the millions of interactions among brain cells in animals that move about freely, behaving as they would under natural circumstances. New technology...