The mouse brain is also not a perfect model for the human brain; while mice have about 75 million neurons, humans have more than 1,000 times that -- according a 2009 study, the human brain has about 86 billion neurons.
Still, researchers needed to start somewhere. And brain structures important to memory, such as the hippocampus and the amygdala, are present in both mice and humans.
The Science study could affect future exploration into the treatment of patients with psychiatric disorders in which patients have a false sense of reality, Tonegawa said. In schizophrenia, for example, patients may have hallucinations, which are sensory perceptions of events that are not real. Learning about how to alter information in the brain, says Tonegawa, may prove useful.
It has been shown in many studies that false memories can be "implanted" in people easily -- no genetic alteration required.
Much of the research by Elizabeth Loftus, cognitive psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, shows that we are susceptible to change the way we remember events based on cues from other people.
A 1995 study of hers had seven out of 24 participants "remembering" false events that researchers told them were real.
In a different study, Loftus and her colleagues played videos of different incidents for volunteers and then asked them what they remembered. Merely asking about "THE broken headlight" led more people, on average, to say they remembered seeing it than those who were asked about "A broken headlight." The catch: There was no broken headlight at all.
There's evidence that eyewitness misidentification played a role in nearly 75% of the convictions that have been overturned because of DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project.
Such statistics suggest to Tonegawa that caution is necessary when considering eyewitness testimony in the courtroom.
"The use of testimony based on human memory should be really limited, restricted," Tonegawa said. "I'm not saying it should be thrown out completely, but one should be very careful and very conservative about testimony-based evidence."
It's a controversial subject -- but at least the mice don't have to worry about it.
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