I love this kind of research. I'm a bit peeved I cannot get hold of the full paper (why can't more things be open access?)
No matter. I shall nerd
Does this mean they'll grow a brain? My thoughts are: Not in our lifetime.
What it does afford is a much better understanding into how neuronal circuits in the brain work (at least from what I can gather from the abstract.) So, apologies if I'm patronising anyone, but here's my version of what I think it's all about:
Firstly, consider which neuronal tissue they chose - the cells are from the hippocampus. This is one of the first places they really started to get excited about when researching neuroplasticity - it's associated with short- and long-term memory, and spatial navigation (and it's a source of neuronal stem cells.) There was a study some years ago showing that London taxi drivers (who have to memorise all the potential routes in central London) have a larger / more active posterior hippocampal region*. It's also from research into this region that the concepts of long-term potentiation and long-term depression arose (depression in the sense of diminution, rather than in the Ψ concept.) At neuron level this is about increasing / decreasing the strength of transmission across synapses. The stronger the synaptic connection, the easier it is to excite the neurons involved (and vice versa). As an area of the brain associated with memory, it's a logical choice for seeing what happens when you mess around with excitation and inhibition. So with this research, by blocking what is inhibiting synaptic transmission, the neuronal activity generated by the initial stimulus given to the doughnut of hippocampal cells in vitro
is maintained for significantly longer. As they point out in the abstract, this is nigh on impossible to study in vivo
, so the construction of the circuit itself is phenomenal.
But,is this a memory? Not, perhaps as we perceive it, but it's the stuff memories are made of...and it's damn clever stuff.
(As an aside, if I got this wrong, I'm happy to be corrected.)
- for those of you who like that kind of thing.