Source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=single-brain-cell-stores-single-concept

Once a brilliant Russian Neurosurgeon named Akakhi Akakhievitch had a patient who wanted to forget his overbearing, impossible mother.

Eager to oblige, Akakhievitch opened up the patient's brain and, one by one, ablated several thousand neurons, each of which related to the concept of his mother. When the patient woke up from anesthesia, he had lost all notion of his mother. All memories of her, good and bad, were gone. Jubilant with his success, Akakhievitch turned his attention to the next endeavor—the search for cells linked to the memory of “grandmother.”

Is it true?

  • This is interesting... But how would he know what neurons would be correlated to the mother vs other things?
    – Cruril
    Jan 15, 2013 at 21:52
  • @Cruril, I'm wondering the same thing. However it is difficult to say, maybe he known the patient's mother. Jan 15, 2013 at 21:59
  • 2
    This is a teaser to a paywalled article. There's a risk here that the body of the article actually gives appropriate context to this tall story. Have you purchased the article and checked further?
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 15, 2013 at 23:47
  • 5
    The name "Akakhi Akakhievitch" practically screams "this story is fictional" to any Russian language speaker :)
    – Kreiri
    Jan 16, 2013 at 8:19
  • 10
    Akaky Akakievich is a protagonist of Gogol's short story The Overcoat. Name is widely used to show comical or fictional characters (putting aside the direct references to Gogol) Jan 17, 2013 at 4:29

1 Answer 1


A History of Neuroscience article titled Genealogy of the "Grandmother Cell" by Charles G. Gross (Princeton University) says that it's fictional, a tall tale: told by Jerry Letvin in 1969 as part of an M.I.T. course he gave.

The patient in the story was called Portnoy, whose Complaint was about his mother.

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