How do you make an electronic brain prosthesis that could restore a person’s ability to form long-term memories? Recent experiments by Theodore Berger and his colleagues, including Sam Deadwyler at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, have begun to describe how it might be done.
Last year, the team showed that an implant that records the activity of one set of neurons and directs the activity of another can replace lost brain function in monkeys. The researchers used an array of electrodes to measure the electrical activity of neurons in the animals’ prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in decision making that directs many types of cognitive responses associated with memory. Five monkeys were trained to perform a memory task in which they were shown an image on a screen and then had to use hand movements to steer a cursor to that image when they were subsequently shown a collection of clip-art pictures.