ScienceDaily had an article on the research of B. Strowbridge and P. Larimer. (here) Their ‘first’ is to create stimulus-specific sustained activity patterns in brain circuits maintained in vitro using pieces of rodent hippocampus – memory in a petri dish.
Mossy cells are unusual because they maintain much of their normal activity even when kept alive in thin brain slices. The spontaneous electrical activity found in mossy cells was critical to their discovery of memory traces in this brain region.
When stimulating electrodes were inserted in the hippocampal brain slice the spontaneous activity in the mossy cells remembered which electrode had been activated. The memory in vitro lasted about 10 seconds, about as long as many types of working memories studied in people.
“This is the first time anyone has stored information in spontaneously active pieces of mammalian brain tissue. It is probably not a coincidence that we were able to show this memory effect in the hippocampus, the brain region most associated with human memory,” said Strowbridge.
The scientists measured the frequency of synaptic inputs onto the mossy cells to determine whether or not the hippocampus had retained memory…They also found the brain circuit that enabled the hippocampus to remember which input pathway had been activated. The memory effect occurred because of a rare type of brain cell called semilunar granule cells, described in 1893 by the father of neuroscience, Ramón y Cajal. The semilunar granule cells have an unusual form of persistent activity, allowing them to maintain memory and connect to the mossy cells.
Working memory is intimately involved with consciousness.