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CSHL study finds short- and long-term memories require same gene but in different circuits
Date:8/17/2009

Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. Why is it that you can instantly recall your own phone number but have to struggle with your mental Rolodex to remember a new number you heard a few moments ago? The two tasks "feel" different because they involve two different types of memory long-term and short-term, respectively that are stored very differently in the brain. The same appears to be true across the animal kingdom, even in insects such as the fruit fly.

Assistant Professor Josh Dubnau, Ph.D., of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) and his team have uncovered an important molecular and cellular basis of this difference using the fruit fly as a model. The results of their study appear in the August 25 issue of Current Biology.

The CSHL team has found that when fruit flies learn a task, each of two different groups of neurons that are part of the center of learning and memory in the fly brain simultaneously forms its own unique memory signal or trace. Both types of trace, the team discovered, depend on the activity of a gene called rutabaga, of which humans also have a similar version. A rapidly occurring, short-lived trace in a group of neurons that make up a structure called the "gamma" (γ) lobe produces a short-term memory. A slower, long-lived trace in the "alpha-beta" (αβ) lobe fixes a long-term memory.

A tale of two lobes

Neuroscientists call the rutabaga gene a coincidence detector because it codes for an enzyme whose activity levels get a big boost when a fly perceives two stimuli that it has to learn to associate with one another. This enzymatic activity in turn signals to other genes critical for learning and memory.

A classic experiment that teaches flies to associate stimuli and one that the CSHL team used is to place them in a training tube attached to an electric grid, and to administer shocks through the grid right after a certain odor is piped into the tube. Flies with normal
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Contact: Hema Bashyam
bashyam@cshl.edu
516-367-6822
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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