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'Inception' Movie Plot Comes to Life: Mice Implanted with False Memories

Update Date: Jul 25, 2013 07:04 PM EDT

Scientists have successfully been able to implant a false memory in a mouse by manipulating brain cells that encode that information, according to a new study.

The findings, published this week in the journal Science, showed that by manipulating brain cells, the brain was able to create illusions of events that never occurred at all.

A team of investigators from MIT first identified a particular subset of cells in a hippocampal sub-region called the dentate gyrus (DG) that are particularly associated with forming contextual memories-exactly where a reward or a danger was encountered in the past so those places can be sought out or avoided in the future. The researchers then did a little manipulating of the DG with the help of a relatively new technique known as optogenetics.

The work is similar to the plot of the 2010 movie Inception, in which a 'neurological spy' played by Leonardo DiCaprio is hired to plant an idea in someone's mind. The process of creating a false memory is known as inception.

The results are believed to occur similarly in humans as the basic mechanisms of memory formation in mammals are evolutionarily ancient, said Edvard I. Moser, a neuroscientist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Moser was not part of the study.

"What I find fascinating about this," Dr. Moser said, according to the New York Times, "is that you actually can point to a physical substrate to memory," what the researchers call an engram. Neuroscientists have long talked about engrams, but Dr. Moser said the recent research is the closest they have gotten to pointing to a spot in the brain and saying, "That is the memory."

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