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Carnegie Mellon neuroscientists discover new phase of synaptic development
Date:5/29/2013

PITTSBURGHStudents preparing for final exams might want to wait before pulling an all-night cram session at least as far as their neurons are concerned. Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientists have discovered a new intermediate phase in neuronal development during which repeated exposure to a stimulus shrinks synapses. The findings are published in the May 8 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

It's well known that synapses in the brain, the connections between neurons and other cells that allow for the transmission of information, grow when they're exposed to a stimulus. New research from the lab of Carnegie Mellon Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Alison L. Barth has shown that in the short term, synapses get even stronger than previously thought, but then quickly go through a transitional phase where they weaken.

"When you think of learning, you think that it's cumulative. We thought that synapses started small and then got bigger and bigger. This isn't the case," said Barth, who also is a member of the joint Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. "Based on our data, it seems like synapses that have recently been strengthened are peculiarly vulnerable more stimulation can actually wipe out the effects of learning.

"Psychologists know that for long-lasting memory, spaced training - like studying for your classes after very lecture, all semester long is superior to cramming all night before the exam," Barth said. "This study shows why. Right after plasticity, synapses are almost fragile more training during this labile phases is actually counterproductive."

Previous research from Barth's lab established the biochemical mechanisms responsible for the strengthening of synapses in the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for thought and language, but only measured the synapses after 24 hours. In the current study, post-doctoral student Jing A. Wen inves
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Contact: Jocelyn Duffy
jhduffy@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-9982
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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