The memory – formation system is made up of the hippocampus, the limbic thalamus, and the basal forebrain. Information is obtained through the senses, passed through the memory-formation system, and transferred to permanent storage in the outer layers of the cortex. For information that you need on a temporary basis, nerve cells adjust existing proteins to hold the memory until you no longer need it. Then when the need is over, the neurons return to their original state and you forget. If the information is something you want to store permanently, entirely new types of proteins are manufactured, new genes are “switched on,” and permanent changes to the connections in the structure of the brain are created. So there is a difference in the brain’s activation for a temporary piece of information, such as what you need to buy at the store, and a more permanent memory, such as your new telephone number.

Recent evidence indicates that the transfer of the information from the hippocampus to the cortex for permanent storage occurs while we sleep. For the maximum efficiency of memory transfer, you need to have deep sleep within the first two hours of sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep later in the night, preferably toward the end of the sleep cycle. The same neurons activated earlier in the day, when the information first was introduced, fire in the same pattern and appear to download the information through the neuron connections to the cortex.

No matter what our age, we can create new connections within the brain. It is repeated exposure to new information that grows these connections. The more connections we have, the deeper the brain’s resources upon which to call. As adults, we can produce and fine-tune neuron connections much as a baby creates new connections after birth. We also can grow new cells, particularly in the hippocampus (the area helping us to store new memories and continue learning).


(Memory storage systems)