Susumu Tonegawa and his colleagues at the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics have officially made Inception into a real thing—for mice, at least: The research team has successfully inserted scary, fabricated memories in lab mice to terrify them (of course).
This isn’t just a moment of science fiction becoming real: The researchers say this achievement will help them understand the cell behavior and electrochemical mechanics behind the formation of memories. At the same time, it could also lead to new ways of treating mental illnesses that are influenced by memory.
In their experiments, the scientists used lab-grown mice specially bred to have neurons that are activated with a flash of light. When flashed with light, these mice would produce a protein called channelrhodopsin-2, which would stimulate cell activity.
In this case, the scientists also surgically implanted a fiber cable inside a mouse's brain to create a fake memory of it being shocked. The researchers first placed the mouse in a safe chamber known as “Chamber A” before it transported the critter to “Chamber B.” While the mouse was in Chamber B, the scientists triggered its memory-stimulating proteins so the mouse would associate Chamber B with Chamber A and promptly shocked the rodent with an electric charge.
When the mouse was returned to Chamber A, it immediately recalled the false memory of being shocked in that chamber (which it wasn't—it was shocked in Chamber B), and it started freaking out. The team successfully reproduced the experiment over a dozen times with other mice as well.
This is some pretty messed up science.
Tonegawa told MIT Technology review that the research team is not out to “implant or ‘incept’ some false experience into the human mind.” Instead, scientists hope this research could lead to useful methods of treating psychiatric conditions that such as schizophrenic delusions.
You can read more about the research at MIT Technology Review.
This story, "Incept yourself: Scientists implant fake memories in mice" was originally published by TechHive.