Cellular memory is a theory that body cells retain memory independently of the brain. It is considered a parallel theory or variation of the so-called corporeal memory hypothesis which holds that the body as a whole can retain memory, rather than being an exclusive function of the central nervous system.
The idea behind cellular memory is that cells can store memories about experiences, habits and other characteristic aspects of each individual’s identity. Proponents of this theory suggest that memory at the cellular level would be produced through chemical mediators, substances exchanged between cells, in the same way that memory in the brain is based on the exchange of neurotransmitters.
The theory emerged from subjective experiences in patients undergoing organ transplantation. The organ recipients adopted new habits after the transplant and some even claimed to remember experiences they did not have and did not recognize as their own.
From these reports, it began to be suggested that cellular memory could be a possible explanation. These experiences would be the result of the donor’s organs influencing the recipient’s cells.
Other theories suggested to explain these phenomena attribute it to chemical changes in the patient’s body produced, among others, by the medication or their own psychological and emotional state that involves undergoing a transplant process.
Several researches have been carried out on transplant recipients to explore the possible validity of this theory, but for now it is far from being considered proven and, even if it is true, it is not clear that it can be proven with current techniques.
In the medical field, the most widespread opinion is that cellular memory stories related to transplants are mainly due to suggestion, since it is common that the memories and habits described by the recipient cannot be related to the memories and experiences of the donor.
It is also common for these experiences to be described by patients from communities and personal environments where cellular memory has wide cultural acceptance, even in the transfer of information through this route to children.
But like most theories to which conventional medicine is initially averse, there is little interest in its study, and large-scale rigorous scientific studies have not been conducted. The few studies carried out have failed to prove that cellular memory exists, but they have also failed to prove that it does not exist, although there are data to suggest that it is a possibility that cannot be ruled out.
Some forms of cellular memory in epigenetics and adaptive immunity
Several authors such as Peter Levine and Nicola Diamond identify possible cellular and body memory as a type of implicit memory, one of the two main types of long-term memory identified in humans. Implicit memory would be that acquired and used unconsciously, without this meaning that it cannot affect conscious thought and behavior.
In epigenetics, there are several mechanisms that cells can use to pass information to their daughter cells during cell division, information that could be understood as “memory”.
Specifically, several mechanisms of epigenetic inheritance of anti-stress responses between progenitor and daughter cells. Some of these mechanisms include changes in chromatin or the exchange of certain chemical factors, as well as damaged macromolecules that would pass from stem cells to daughter cells, thus maintaining the memory of the traumatic or stressful event suffered.
Another example that can be understood as cellular memory can be adaptive or acquired immunity. Through this type of immunity, immune cells learn to attack and defend against certain pathogens and are able to pass what they have learned to other cells, present and future, so that, in later contact with the same pathogen, they are able to respond more quickly and efficiently.