‘Lightning bolts’ in the brain reveal how the brain encodes and stores information without disrupting previously acquired memories

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have captured images of dendrite nerve branches that show how mice brains sort, store, and make sense out of information during learning.
In a study published online in the journal Nature March 30, the NYU Langone neuroscientists tracked neuronal activity in dendritic nerve branches as the mice learned motor tasks such as how to run forward and backward on a small treadmill.
They found that the generation of calcium ion spikes, which appeared in screen images as tiny “lightning bolts” in these dendrites, was tied to strengthening or weakening connections between neurons, hallmarks of learning new information.
“We believe our study provides important insights into how the brain deals with vast amounts of information continuously as the brain learns new tasks,” says senior study investigator and neuroscientist Wen-Biao Gan, PhD.
Gan, a professor at NYU Langone and its Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, says, “We have long wondered how the brain can store new information continuously throughout life without disrupting previously acquired memories. We now know that the generation of calcium spikes in separate branches of nerve cells is critical for the brain to encode and store large quantities of information without interfering with each other.”