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Hormone May Play Key Part in Creating Memories
Date:10/4/2007

Rise in norepinephrine levels tied to emotionally charged events, study finds

THURSDAY, Oct. 4 (HealthDay News) -- When you experience an emotionally charged event, it's something that is etched into your memory, and now scientists think they know why.

In experiments with mice, researchers found that powerful surges of the hormone norepinephrine -- surges that occur during emotional episodes -- cause a series of events that strengthen the connections between neurons, sealing these events into the memory.

"The question we are addressing is why is it that you can remember some trivial events that occur at a time when there is high emotional arousal," said lead researcher Dr. Roberto Malinow, of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. "For example, everyone remembers where they were when they heard about September 11, even though [they may have been] in some trivial place."

The researchers found that norepinephrine can modify brain cell receptors, making them easier to go into synapses -- the tiny spaces between brain cells -- making it easier to learn and form memories, Malinow said.

In studies with mice, Malinow's group found that norepinephrine, coupled with emotional stress, plays an important role in lowering the threshold for certain brain cell receptors called GluR1. This, in turn, causes a boost in memory, the researchers said.

When the researchers put lab mice through behavioral tests, they found that exposure to norepinephrine made normal mice remember events more clearly. But, mice with mutations of the GluR1 receptors that were exposed to norepinephrine did not show improved memory.

Norepinephrine is known to play a part in the emotional control of memory. During emotional stress, norepinephrine is released by neurons (brain cells) in many areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and the amygdala -- areas involved with forming emotional memories.

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