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Scientists discover a new way to control memory

Hippocampal CA1 neurons (red) expressing biotinylated AMPA receptors crosslinked with avidin (green)

The workings of a ‘traffic light system’ in the brain, which plays a key role in how new memories are formed, have been detailed for the first time by scientists.

A study published today, (Wednesday the 13 of September), led by the Institute for Neurosciences (the National Centre for Scientific Research /the University of Bordeaux) in France and worked on by a researcher now at the University of Sussex, England, reveals the exact routes a key protein needs to take in our brains in order for us to form new memories.

The protein, called the AMPA receptor, plays a crucial role in how our memories are formed by accumulating at connections and enhancing signals between our brain cells. However up until now, the exact routes these proteins need to take and when they take them in order for us to remember things have been unclear.

Now the team of researchers have answered these questions by interfering with the different paths the protein takes to reach the connections between brain cells. The team discovered that if you make some of these routes unavailable for the protein then brain connections no longer become enhanced and this has a massive effect on being able to remember information in the long term.

The scientists believe the findings of the research open the way for developing new approaches to control memory and learning.

Daniel Choquet and Yann Humeau, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), said:This work represents the accomplishment of an exciting 8-year endeavour during which scientists from many fields, from physics to behavioural neuroscience, joined forces to discover the secrets of memory.”

Dr Andrew Penn, from the University of Sussex, said:“We believe the results resolve a debate about what paths this key protein takes to enhance brain cell connections during learning.

"We now have a clearer understanding of how traffic changes on the various routes this protein takes to enhance our brain connections. Using the same analogy, we can now start using road traffic control to tune the formation of new memories”  

The study entitled: “Hippocampal LTP and contextual learning require surface diffusion of AMPA receptors” has been published in the journal Nature and can be found here.

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2017