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Brain scientist shedding light on learning, memory
Date:3/26/2008

Neurons spoke to Dr. Joe Z. Tsien when he was a sophomore college student searching for some meaningful extracurricular activity.

He had stopped by the lab of a brain researcher at Shanghais East China Normal University. The room was dark except for a light shining on the brain. You could hear this pop, pop, pop, pop, says Dr. Tsien, brain scientist who recently came to the Medical College of Georgia from Boston University. At that moment, I got interested in the brain.

We study the questions that many people are always curious about how the brain works, how memory works then take it down to different levels. What is the molecular basis for the memory process" That means what genes are involved in laying down memory at a very fundamental level" says the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cognitive and Systems Neurobiology and co-director of the MCG School of Medicines new Brain Discovery Institute. We have been able to identify very critical memory genes and manipulate them in such a way that we can either turn them off, so the memory of mice is impaired, or enhance them.

Hes talking about Doogie, a mouse that over-expresses a smart gene in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain critical to memory and attacked by Alzheimers. NMDA receptors are essentially small pores on cell membranes that let ions in and increase neuronal activity and communication. Younger people have higher amounts of a NMDA subunit, NR2B, that keeps communication channels open longer so more information is shared. As people age, they switch to subunit NR2A, presumably because evolution has figured out by then we should have transmitted our genes to offspring, he says. Dr. Tsien and his colleagues made Doogie by over-expressing the NR2B gene and a conditional knockout by eliminating another NMDA receptor subunit.

Doogie was better at remembering and putting things in context, able to quickly recognize something he had seen before and mo
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Contact: Toni Baker
tbaker@mcg.edu
706-721-4421
Medical College of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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