How brain keeps memories alive for decades
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ANI: Scientists, including Indian-origin researchers, have found that a prion-like protein plays a key role in storing long-term memories.
Memories in our brains are maintained by connections between neurons called “synapses”.
Neuroscientists at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research have discovered a major clue from a study in fruit flies, hardy, self-copying clusters or oligomers of a synapse protein are an essential ingredient for the formation of long-term memory.
The finding supports a surprising new theory about memory, and may have a profound impact on explaining other oligomer-linked functions and diseases in the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease and prion diseases.
“Self-sustaining populations of oligomers located at synapses may be the key to the long-term synaptic changes that underlie memory; in fact, our finding hints that oligomers play a wider role in the brain than has been thought,” Kausik Si, senior author of the study, said.
Si’s investigations in this area began nearly a decade ago during his doctoral research in the Columbia University laboratory of Nobel-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel.
He found that in the sea slug Aplysia californica, which has long been favored by neuroscientists for memory experiments because of its large, easily-studied neurons, a synapse-maintenance protein known as CPEB (Cytoplasmic Polyadenylation Element Binding protein) has an unexpected property.
A portion of the structure is self-complementary and, much like empty egg cartons, can easily stack up with other copies of itself. CPEB thus exists in neurons partly in the form of oligomers, which increase in number when neuronal synapses strengthen.
These oligomers have a hardy resistance to ordinary solvents, and within neurons may be much more stable than single-copy “monomers” of CPEB. They also seem to actively sustain their population by serving as templates for the formation of new oligomers from free monomers in the vicinity.