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Place Memories

August 25, 2015

When a familiar place changes, two brain regions work together to update our memories.



Jeremy Johnson Johns Hopkins University

Research assistant Jeremy Johnson feeds a rat on the behavioral track used to determine where the brain decides what is new and what is familiar. (Johns Hopkins University)

Remembrance of places past. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You walk into a room that seems familiar, but…something’s changed. Have you been here before? Two areas within the hippocampus, the brain region important for memory, might help you decide. Johns Hopkins neuroscientist James Knierim had rats learn an environment and then rearranged certain aspects, disorienting even the researchers.

JAMES KNIERIM (Johns Hopkins University):

When we change the environment around and go back in there, it seems weird. You get this visceral feeling that something’s not right here.


Recordings of the rats’ brains showed that one part of the hippocampus detected something was new, while another region recalled the memory of the space, updating it with what had changed. Soon enough, the rats got their bearings.

Published in the journal Neuron, the work may lead to insight into why this memory system sometimes fails in old age and dementia. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.