Virtual reality helps ID brain areas involved in memory

Neuroscientists have used virtual reality to gain insight into how the brain assembles memory, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

In the brain, memories are assembled in pieces, each piece perhaps being recalled from a different area. In this study, researchers use virtual reality and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to pinpoint where and how memories are recalled.

Researchers developed 3D virtual reality houses using architectural sketching software and had participants watch a series of videos where they visited the different houses. In each house, different objects were included for participants to memorize. After viewing the videos, participants were asked to recall the objects while researchers viewed the brain's memory recall through the fMRI.

“Being asked about the objects spontaneously reactivated contextual information,” coauthor Halle Dimsdale-Zucker said. "Different regions of the hippocampus were activated for different kinds of information: One area, CA1, was associated with representing shared information about contexts (e.g., objects that were in the same video); another, distinct area was linked to representing differences in context.

“Being asked about the objects spontaneously reactivated contextual information,” Dimsdale-Zucker added. "What's exciting is that it is intuitive that you can remember a unique experience, but the hippocampus is also involved in linking similar experiences. You need both to be able to remember."