Memory improvement via stimulation of temporal cortex

Stimulation of temporal cortex with electrodes at memory encoding time boosted recall by 15%, in humans.

In the first phase, researchers listened to brain activity while subjects were memorizing nouns. They trained a model to try to predict, based on the brain activity at encoding time, if that word would be remembered or not. In the second phase, researchers ran the model while subjects were memorizing words, and if the model predicted that the word was more than 50% likely to be forgotten, they zapped the brain for 0.5 seconds (through a single pair of adjacent electrodes in the lateral temporal cortex, at amplitudes ranging from 0.5 mA to 1.5 mA (for electrodes deep in the cortex) or 3.5 mA (for the cortical surface) (amplitude was the maximum within this range such that stimulation didn’t appear to cause afterdischarges). Stimulation in this fashion improved recall by 15%. After stimulation, the classifier was more likely to say that the subject would remember the word, which might suggest that the stimulation improved recall by sometimes nudging the brain into a state that the classifier recognized as good for memory encoding.

As an aside, imo one should keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily mean that this would be a good thing to do every time you are learning something. The way i like to think about this experiment is to imagine that you have some big machine that you don’t know how it works. The machine sometimes makes humming noises and other times it makes sputtering noises. You notice that when it makes the sputtering noise, this correlates somewhat with it not doing its job so well. So, whenever you hear a sputtering noise, you kick it really hard. Sometimes when you kick it, it makes it hum again. You record data and find out that if you kick it when it sputters, that improves output by 15%. That’s very interesting, but does it mean that it’s a good idea to kick the machine whenever it sputters? No — maybe kicking the machine damages it a little (or has some small probability of damaging it sometimes), or maybe the sputtering was something (such as a self-cleaning cycle) that the machine needs to do for its long-term health even at the cost of short-term performance. In other words, there is a clear gain to kicking the machine when it sputters, but it is unknown if there is also a subtle cost.


Youssef Ezzyat, Paul A. Wanda, Deborah F. Levy, Allison Kadel, Ada Aka, Isaac Pedisich, Michael R. Sperling, Ashwini D. Sharan, Bradley C. Lega, Alexis Burks, Robert E. Gross, Cory S. Inman, Barbara C. Jobst, Mark A. Gorenstein, Kathryn A. Davis, Gregory A. Worrell, Michal T. Kucewicz, Joel M. Stein, Richard Gorniak, Sandhitsu R. Das, Daniel S. Rizzuto & Michael J. Kahana. Closed-loop stimulation of temporal cortex rescues functional networks and improves memory.


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