Direct Amygdala Stimulation Can Enhance Human Memory

Everyone has memories that they would enjoy remembering more clearly if possible. Someday, a process similar to this type of amygdala stimulation will be used by a lot more people to recall events from the past that shaped what kind of people they became.

Direct electrical stimulation of the human amygdala, a region of the brain known to regulate memory and emotional behaviors, can enhance next-day recognition of images when applied immediately after the images are viewed, neuroscientists have found.

The findings are the first example of electrical brain stimulation in humans giving a time-specific boost to memory lasting more than a few minutes, the scientists say. Patients’ recognition only increased for stimulated images, and not for control images presented in between the stimulated images. The experiments were conducted at Emory University Hospital in 14 epilepsy patients undergoing intracranial monitoring, an invasive procedure for the diagnosis of seizure origin, during which electrodes are introduced into the brain.

“We were able to tag specific memories to be better remembered later,” says co-first author Cory Inman, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurosurgery. “One day, this could be incorporated into a device aimed at helping patients with severe memory impairments, like those with traumatic brain injuries or mild cognitive impairment associated with various neurodegenerative diseases. However, right now, this is more of a scientific finding than a therapeutic one.”

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“We see this as a platform for the further study of memory enhancement,” says senior author Jon T. Willie, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery and neurology at Emory University School of Medicine.