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Researchers Exploring The Origin Of Visual Memories

Update Date: Aug 11, 2014 12:42 PM EDT

There exists a clear frontier in the brain between the area that encodes information about what is immediately before the eyes, according to a new study. The area also encodes the abstract representation that are ultimately the product of out short-term memory or imagination. 

"When a tiger starts to move towards you, you need to know whether it is something you are actually seeing or whether it's just something that you remember or have imagined," says Prof. Julio Martinez-Trujillo of McGill's Department of Physiology, in the press release. 

"We found that while one area in the brain processes information about what we are currently seeing, an area right beside it stores the information in short-term memory," said first author of the article, McGill PhD student Diego Mendoza-Halliday, in the press release.  

"What is so exciting about this finding is that until now, no one knew the place where visual information first gets transformed into short-term memory."

Researchers measured the neuronal activity in these two areas in the brains of macaques as they first looked at and eventually, after a short time, (1.2 - 2 seconds) remembered a random sequence of dots moving across a computer similar to rainfall. 

Researchers were surprised to see how clearly demarcated the divide was between the activities and functions of the two brain areas, and this despite the fact that they lie side-by-side, the press release added. 

"It is rare to find this kind of sharp boundary in biological systems of any kind," said Martinez-Trujillo. "Most of the time, when you look at the function of different brain areas, there is more of a transitional zone, more grey and not such a clear border between black and white. I think the evolutionary reason for this clear frontier is that it helped us to survive in dangerous situations."

The findings of the study are detailed in the journal Nature Neuroscience. 

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