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Memory's master switch
Date:7/29/2010

Neuroscientists have long wondered how individual connections between brain cells remain diverse and "fit" enough for storing new memories. Reported in the prestigious science journal Neuron, a new study led by Dr. Inna Slutsky of the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University describes what makes some memories stick.

The key is GABA (γ-Aminobutyric acid), a natural molecule that occurs in the brain, which could be the main factor in regulating how many new memories we can generate, the new study has found. The understanding of these mechanisms might lead to the development of new memory enhancers and new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Memories, Dr. Slutsky says, are stored in synaptic connections between neurons in our brain. In the past, other teams, including her own, have demonstrated that the strength of individual synapses is highly variable, even at the single neuron level. This variability ultimately determines if and how new memories are stored, and the key to this variability is GABA, a naturally-occurring chemical found in the brain.

Tight connections and lone rangers

Dr. Slutsky's graduate student Tal Laviv and postdoctoral fellow Inbal Riven, the lead authors in the study, applied advanced nanotechnology methods in optical imaging to track how proteins engineered by Prof. Paul Slesinger and his team at The Salk Institute interact with GABA at the single-synapse level.

In the hippocampus, one of the main areas of the brain involved in learning and memory, the strength of neuronal connections is known to be highly variable. Some neurons are tightly connected to others, while some appear to be "lone rangers."

The new paper, which examines individual synapses in the hippocampus, demonstrates that this process is regulated by GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain. "We determined that variations in the local level of GA
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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