discoveries magazine

Memory Lane

Cassette tape

Photo Illustration: David Arky

How do we store memories? Before scientists can answer that longstanding question, they need to know which parts of the brain are involved. Recently, investigators at Cedars-Sinai made a surprising discovery about short-term memory, which is the ability to maintain ideas, thoughts, images, and objects for seconds or minutes.

Short-term memory involves a type of brain cell called a persistently active neuron. "We predicted these neurons would exist in the frontal lobe," says Jan Kaminski, PhD, a neuroscientist at Cedars-Sinai and the lead author of a study into these cells. "But we did not expect to also find them in the medial temporal lobe, an area of the brain we believed was only involved in long-term memory."

Impaired short-term memory severely weakens our ability to complete everyday tasks. "The more we know about where and how memories are made," Kaminski says, "the closer we are to developing treatments for memory disorders."