Brain signals for good memory discovered

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Functional networks associated with individual differences in memory performance
Functional networks associated with individual differences in memory performance. (Image: MCN, University of Basel)
People differ in their memory performance. Researchers at the University of Basel have now discovered that certain brain signals are related to these differences.

Certain brain regions play a crucial role in memory processes. However, it was previously unclear whether these regions show different activities in storing information in people with a good memory than in those with a weaker memory.

A research team led by Dominique de Quervain and Andreas Papassotiropoulos has investigated this question and is now publishing the results in the journal ’Nature Communications’.

In the world’s largest functional imaging study on memory, they had nearly 1,500 study participants between the ages of 18 and 35 look at and memorize a total of 72 images. During this time, the researchers recorded the subjects’ brain activity using MRI. The participants were then asked to recall as many images as possible from memory. As in the general population, there were large differences in memory performance among the subjects.

Signals in brain regions and networks

In certain brain regions, including the hippocampus, the researchers found a direct correlation between brain activity during the memorization process and later memory performance. Individuals with better memory showed greater activation of these brain areas. However, no such correlation was found for other memory-relevant brain areas in the posterior cortex; they were equally active in individuals with better and those with weaker memory.

In addition, the researchers were able to identify functional networks in the brain that were linked to memory performance. These networks consist of different brain regions that communicate with each other to enable complex processes such as the storage of information.

’The findings help us better understand how differences in memory performance between people occur,’ says Léonie Geissmann, the study’s lead author. However, brain signals from a single person would not allow conclusions to be drawn about that person’s memory performance.

The data obtained are of great importance for future research aimed at linking biological traits such as genetic markers to brain signals, the researchers said.

Basel research on memory

The current study is part of a large-scale research project of the Molecular and Cognitive Neurosciences research cluster of the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Psychiatric Clinics. The aim of this project is to gain a deeper understanding of memory processes and to translate the findings from basic research into clinical applications.

Original publication

Léonie Geissmann, David Coynel, Andreas Papassotiropoulos & Dominique J. F. de Quervain.
Neurofunctional underpinnings of individual differences in visual episodic memory performance.
Nature Communications (2023), doi: 10.1038/s41467’023 -41380-w.