A study of mouse brain cells done by US scientists showed that just one brain cell was capable of holding fleeting memories vital for our everyday life.

The study revealed how they could keep information stored for as long as a minute. Understanding these short-term memories could help unlock the secrets of Alzheimer's disease.

In the study, the difference between the brain's long-term and short-term memory has been likened to the RAM of a computer and the hard-drive.

To perform normal functions, we need the ability to store, quickly and reliably, large amounts of data, but only a small amount of this needs to be retained in the longer term.

Decades of work were needed to realize which parts of the brain were responsible for these functions, and how cells manage this feat.

Original theories suggested that the memories were being retained by multiple cells forming "circuits" around which electrical impulses were fired for the necessary period.
Newer ideas center around the concept that even an individual cell could somehow hold on to information.

The researchers looked at brain cells taken from mice using tiny electrodes to measure their function. They found that a particular component of the cells in question, a chemical receptor, which, when switched on, tells the cell to start an internal signal system that holds the "memory" in place.

The next step would be to find out more about this internal system so that it could be targeted by newly developed drugs to improve memory and allow a person to complete tasks without being distracted.

The researchers are hoping that this could also help people addicted to drugs, by improving the ability of their brain to ignore impulses.

It would also be essential to get to grips with the memory problems involved in Alzheimer's disease because when you have no short term memory, you've got no chance of longer-term memories.

By understanding memory formation, scientists may be able to discover ways to enhance it.