Do Fort Wayne Rats Dream?

The fact that animals dream will be confirmed by many pet owners, who have seen their pets twitch, bark or suddenly wake up from sleep. The reason it is difficult to believe that animals dream is because they cannot vocalize and relate what they dreamt about. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that rats dream and replay activities of the day. Scientists have known that neurons called “place cells” form an organized map of space. This is done in the hippocampus through spatially located patterns. Place cells can be recorded in Fort Wayne rats and similar patterns have been found in humans.

Rats like people store mental maps in the hippocampus (2 curves situated on either sides of the brain). Electrodes inserted in rat's brains have shown that they record and remember different places in their environment by a combination of neurons and hippocampus. These cells get activated in sleep to suggest that they are dreaming of what has occurred during the day. An experiment was conducted to check whether this activity would help in future. 4 Indiana rats were placed at the bottom of a T shaped path and food was kept at the end of one arm. The entry was barred with grilles. Next the rats were encouraged to sleep and activity in hippocampus recorded. On waking the rats were once again put into the same maze with the food and grille removed. The rats immediately scampered to the place where they had earlier seen food following the pattern encoded. This meant that rats were able to simulate future activities when sleeping.

Humans with damaged hippocampus were unable to imagine future scenarios. This can lead to the conclusion that place cells not only map space during physical experiences but also in future. While the possibility of Fort Wayne rats dreaming of future cannot be fully established there are evidences which show that during sleep rats follow the same mazes they encountered during the day. This is very similar to humans who dream and visualize activities of the day in their dreams. This correlation is very useful and rats can be used to research on brain activities. Rat's activity can be used to help analyse human mind during sleep. Sleeping has proven to improve human memory and performance.

The brain activities of rats can be manipulated and studied which may not be possible with the human brain. Researchers have also been able to alter dream of mice. This is done through electrode stimulation on certain areas of brain. Then scientists are able to control what rats dream. This is a new branch called dream engineering. A paper ‘Biasing the content of hippocampal replay during sleep' was published in the journal of Neurosciences. It was found that when they played tones back to sleeping Fort Wayne rats their brains responded in exactly the same way they did when they were awake. The fantastical 2010 movie “Inception” where it was possible to enter into the dream world is slowly becoming a reality.

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