Antimatter revolutionized astrophysics. Will anti-memory transform neuroscience?

 

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Antimatter, a well-known term to all the physicists and physics lover all over the world. In 1928, British physicists Paul Dirac combined the theories of quantum physics and special relativity to define the comportment of an electron moving at a relativistic speed. He formed an equation which ultimately won him the Nobel Prize in 1933 but more importantly he came up with a problem which in turns defines Antimatter.

Just like the equation x^2=4 has two possible answers (x=2 and x=-2), Paul’s equation too had two possibilities – one was for the positive electrons and another was for the negative electrons. But we know classical physics states that energy of particle should always be in a positive number. So, Dirac construed the equation to mean that for every particle there exists a corresponding antiparticle, exactly matching the particle but with opposite charge. This defined Antimatter and the rest is history in the field of Astronomy.

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However, today I am not going to discuss Antimatter though the article is faintly related to it. Anti-memories is the limelight today. Just like Antimatter revolutionized the field of astrophysics and deepened our quest in truly understanding the universe, Anti-memories could help us grabbing the mysterious connection of the memories happening inside our brain.

When a new memory is created or the old ones are recalled, a strong impulse of electrical activity happens in the deepest itineraries of neurons inside our brain. The memory is characterized by this new connotation between neurons. But the most intriguing part is that a new theory suggests, that the time when a memory is created, an anti-memory is also produced. The theory is backed by animal research and mathematical models. The “anti-memory” theory suggests that the connections between neurons are made in a way that they produce the exact opposite pattern of neural impulses when an old memory is recalled to that of when a new memory created. Scientists believe that this phenomenon helps the brain to balance the activities in a chronological way.

The electrical activities in our brain are superbly and precisely balanced. When someone is emotionally excited, there is a stronger connection between the neurons, a process which is normal in every human brain. However, if the same emotional excitation happens in excess, then the bond becomes weaker and the electrical impulses suppress a bit. The imbalance electrical activities in the brain are thought to trigger some of the cognitive problems of brain disease such as autism and schizophrenia.

Trying to understand the effect of this electrical imbalances, scientists concluded that the possibility of a second process is there, where re-balancing the excitation caused by a new memory happens and thus keep the whole system in check. Just like we have matter and antimatter, there must be an anti-memory for every memory. This particular mirroring of the excitation of the new memory with its inhibitory anti-memory averts a roaring squall of brain activity, ensuring that the system stays in balance. While the memory is still present, the activity it caused has been restrained. In this way, anti-memories work to suppress the original memory without erasing it.

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Anti-memory countering the brain activity of a memory. Credit: HC Barron et al/Neuron

The proof of anti-memory so far came from the lab experiments where animals like small rats and mice’s were taken as test subjects and experimented on to get better grasps on the practical aspects. The results were truly fascinating. The experiments included a direct recording of brain impulses through electrodes connected inside the brain of the test subject. And since connecting probes inside a human brain will be glared upon, so far this has not been tested on any human yet.

So, Anti-memories can play a major role in the human thought processes by stopping the memories from impulsively activating each other. Just as the discovery of the Antimatter revolutionized the field of physics in the 20th century and still, the exploration into Anti-memory can help us find a new paragon which will lead to better understanding of our brain.

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