Fwd: Brain researchers from UCLA, Johns Hopkins discover role of key protein in converting short-term memories into lifelong ones

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Sun May 20 2001 - 19:09:46 BST

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    Subject: Fwd: Brain researchers from UCLA, Johns Hopkins discover role of key protein in converting short-term memories into lifelong ones
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    ---------------- Begin Forwarded Message ----------------

    Brain researchers from UCLA, Johns Hopkins discover role of key protein
    in converting short-term memories into lifelong ones

    Scientists from UCLA and Johns Hopkins University have taken the first
    step in discovering how the brain, at the molecular and cellular level,
    converts short-term memories into permanent ones. Their study will appear
    May 17 in the journal Nature.

    The study's lead author, postdoctoral researcher Paul Frankland,
    conducted his work in the laboratory of Dr. Alcino Silva at UCLA's Brain
    Research Institute. Previous studies, Frankland noted, point to the
    critical role of the cerebral cortex in establishing lifelong memories.
    But the neurobiology underlying memory storage has been a mystery.

    "Memories last different amounts of time," Frankland said. "You might
    remember a phone number for just a few minutes, for example, while
    certain childhood events will be remembered for a lifetime. Our study
    reveals the role of a protein that must be present in the cortex for
    information to be converted from short-term into lifelong memories."

    In a healthy brain, the hippocampal area stores information on a
    temporary basis, somewhat like a computer holds data in its random access
    memory. When the brain converts information into permanent memory, much
    like writing data to a computer hard drive, the hippocampus interacts
    with the cerebral cortex. If problems occur in either the hippocampus or
    cortex, however, memory impairment can result.

    To better understand this process, Frankland and his colleagues trained
    mice to accomplish certain tasks. Half the mice were genetically normal
    and half had reduced levels of a key protein known as a-CaMKII. The
    genetically altered mice had normal hippocampal function but impaired
    cortical function.

    Initially, both sets of mice showed an ability to learn, indicating
    proper functioning of the hippocampus in acquiring short-term memories.
    When testing took place several days later, the normal mice easily
    remembered their training. By contrast, the memories of the genetically
    altered mice were severely impaired, meaning that the protein-deficient
    cortex did not convert information into permanent form.

    "The information simply went away in the genetically altered animals - as
    if it was never stored in the cortex," Silva said. "This is the first
    molecular manipulation to affect memory so late after training. It
    provides new insights into how mice store long-term memories at the
    molecular and cellular level. Our study indicates that the a-CaMKII
    protein triggers changes in cell-to-cell communication needed for
    establishing permanent memories in the cortex. Therefore, these studies
    provide a key molecular and cellular hint of how we hold on to our oldest
    memories." In future studies, the brain researchers plan to study other
    proteins involved in memory storage. At some point, their discoveries may
    play a role in developing new treatments for certain types of memory
    problems in humans.

    Working on the study with Frankland and Silva were Masuo Ohno of UCLA and
    Cara O'Brien and Alfredo Kirkwood of the Department of Neuroscience and
    the Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins. Their paper is entitled
    "a-CaMKII-Dependent Plasticity in the Cortex Is Required for the
    Establishment of Permanent Memory Traces."

    Contact: Alan Eyerly
    University of California, Los Angeles

    ----------------- End Forwarded Message -----------------

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