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Team led by Scripps Research scientist identifies new gene for memory

JUPITER, FL, September 8, 2010 A team led by a Scripps Research Institute scientist has for the first time identified a new gene that is required for memory formation in Drosophila, the common fruit fly. The gene may have similar functions in humans, shedding light on neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease or human learning disabilities.

The study was published in the September 9, 2010 edition (Vol. 67, No. 5) of the journal Neuron.

"This is the first time we have a new memory and learning gene that lies outside what has been considered the most fundamental signaling pathway that underlies learning in the fruit fly," said Ron Davis, chair of Scripps Research Department of Neuroscience who led the study. "Since many of the learning and memory genes originally identified in the fruit fly are clearly involved in human neurological or psychiatric diseases, this discovery may offer significant new insights into multiple neurological disorders. We're definitely in the right ballpark."

The study shows that different alleles or mutant forms of the gene, known as gilgamesh (gish), are required for short-term memory formation in Drosophila olfactory associative learning learning that links a specific odor with a negative or positive reinforcer.

Because Drosophila learning genes are known to be conserved in higher organisms including humans, they often provide new insights into human brain disorders. For example, the Drosophila gene known as dunce, which Davis helped identify several years ago, provided clues to the genetics of the devastating psychiatric condition of schizophrenia. Recent studies have revealed that the human version of the dunce gene is a susceptibility determinant for schizophrenia. In a similar way, any new learning gene identified in Drosophila, including gilgamesh, may provide new clues to genes involved in human neurological or psychiatric disorder

Contact: Mika Ono
Scripps Research Institute

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