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Surprising Science

How Competition Builds Memory

University of Michigan scientists have demonstrated how memory circuits in the brain refine themselves in a living organism through two distinct types of competition between cells.

What’s the Latest Development?

A University of Michigan study published in the journal Neuron explains how brain cells grow and extend along pathways to link different parts of the brain. “As the brain develops, these connections fine-tune themselves and become more efficient. Problems with this refinement process may be responsible for some neurological disorders. ‘We wanted to know how brain circuits become more efficient during the brain’s development,’ said the study’s author. ‘Does the brain choose to keep good connections and get rid of bad ones and, if so, how?'”

What’s the Big Idea?

Results of the study mark a step forward in the search for the causes of neurological disorders associated with abnormal brain circuits, such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism and schizophrenia. “The better the brain is at eliminating bad connections to keep the circuitry at its most efficient, the more efficient learning and memory will be as well,” the study’s author said. “The better we understand how these mechanisms work, the better we’ll be able to understand what’s happening when they aren’t working.”


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