Ever wondered how your brain can recall the events of yesterday in such as small amount of time? If so, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have uncovered the mechanism that may explain this ability and could help scientists better understand schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, autism and other disorders that stem from distortions between real and fabricated experiences.

The new mechanism compresses the information that is necessary for the retrieval of memories, planning or imagination and converts it into a brain wave frequency that is distinct from the one that is used for encoding real-time experiences. All brain cells communicate and send information to each other using brain waves, but the current study isolated the one that allows us to play back memories and picture future events in a sped-up timeframe.

"The reason we're excited about it is that we think this mechanism can help explain how you can imagine a sequence of events you're about to do in a time-compressed manner," Laura Colgin, who participated in the research, said in a press release. "You can plan out those events and think about the sequences of actions you'll do. And all of that happens on a faster time scale when you're imagining it than when you actually go and do those things."

The study found that slow gamma rhythms are used to retrieve past memories and imagine the future, as opposed to the fast gamma rhythms that are used to encode memories about things happening in real-time. The reason stems from the fact that slow gamma rhythms have a higher storage capacity due to their longer wavelengths, which explains the "fast-forward" effect since the brain can process an increased number of data points on each wave.

The research may help explain why those suffering from schizophrenia and possess disrupted gamma rhythms have difficulty distinguishing between what's real and what's imaginary.

"Maybe they are transmitting their own imagined thoughts on the wrong frequency, the one usually reserved for things that are really happening," Colgin said. "That could have terrible consequences."

The researchers plan to examine animals with neurological disorders similar to autism and Alzheimer's in order to uncover the role, if any, that this mechanism plays and possible ways to counteract it.

The findings were published in the Jan. 7 issue of Neuron