Scientists capture the first image of memories being made

Jun 18, 2009
The increase in green fluorescence represents the imaging of local translation at synapses during long-term synaptic plasticity. Credit: Science

The ability to learn and to establish new memories is essential to our daily existence and identity; enabling us to navigate through the world. A new study by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro), McGill University and University of California, Los Angeles has captured an image for the first time of a mechanism, specifically protein translation, which underlies long-term memory formation.

The finding provides the first visual evidence that when a new memory is formed new proteins are made locally at the synapse - the connection between - increasing the strength of the synaptic connection and reinforcing the memory. The study published in Science, is important for understanding how memory traces are created and the ability to monitor it in real time will allow a detailed understanding of how memories are formed.

When considering what might be going on in the brain at a molecular level two essential properties of memory need to be taken into account. First, because a lot of information needs to be maintained over a long time there has to be some degree of stability. Second, to allow for learning and adaptation the system also needs to be highly flexible.

For this reason, research has focused on synapses which are the main site of exchange and storage in the brain. They form a vast but also constantly fluctuating network of connections whose ability to change and adapt, called synaptic plasticity, may be the fundamental basis of learning and memory.

"But, if this network is constantly changing, the question is how do memories stay put, how are they formed? It has been known for some time that an important step in long-term memory formation is "translation", or the production, of new proteins locally at the synapse, strengthening the synaptic connection in the reinforcement of a memory, which until now has never been imaged," says Dr. Wayne Sossin, neuroscientist at The Neuro and co-investigator in the study. "Using a translational reporter, a fluorescent protein that can be easily detected and tracked, we directly visualized the increased local translation, or protein synthesis, during memory formation. Importantly, this translation was synapse-specific and it required activation of the post-synaptic cell, showing that this step required cooperation between the pre and post-synaptic compartments, the parts of the two neurons that meet at the synapse. Thus highly regulated local translation occurs at synapses during long-term plasticity and requires trans-synaptic signals."

Long-term memory and synaptic plasticity require changes in gene expression and yet can occur in a synapse-specific manner. This study provides evidence that a mechanism that mediates this gene expression during neuronal plasticity involves regulated translation of localized mRNA at stimulated synapses. These findings are instrumental in establishing the molecular processes involved in long-term and provide insight into diseases involving memory impairment.

Source: McGill University (news : web)

Explore further: How nerve cells communicate with each other over long distances

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mechanisms of memory identified

Apr 23, 2008

Our ability to remember the objects, places and people within our environment is essential for everyday life, although the importance of this is only fully appreciated when recognition memory beings to fail, ...

New insight into Alzheimer’s disease

Dec 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new molecule important in a part of the memory that allows recognition of people has been identified by researchers at the University of Bristol. This type of memory is impaired at an early ...

Research sheds light on memory by erasing it

May 08, 2007

For years, scientists have studied the molecular basis of memory storage, trying to find the molecules that store memory, just as DNA stores genetic memory. In an important study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience, ...

Astrocytes and synaptic plasticity

Oct 13, 2008

By mopping up excess neurotrophic factor from neuronal synapses, astrocytes may finely tune synaptic transmission to affect processes such as learning and memory, say Bergami et al.

Recommended for you

Why your favourite song takes you down memory lane

23 hours ago

Music triggers different functions of the brain, which helps explain why listening to a song you like might be enjoyable but a favourite song may plunge you into nostalgia, scientists said on Thursday.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of brain boosts memory

Aug 28, 2014

Stimulating a particular region in the brain via non-invasive delivery of electrical current using magnetic pulses, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, improves memory, reports a new Northwestern Medicine ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

robbor
not rated yet Jun 18, 2009
score one for the advancement of robots
finitesolutions
not rated yet Jun 19, 2009
Great! I will not have to do anything once the robots take over. Lazy age will be a pleasant age. It suits me very well. Long function the robots!