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

BA in the vicinity of individual synapses are responsible for the differences or 'heterogeneity' of synaptic strength. And this heterogeneity may facilitate the formation of new memories," Dr. Slutsky explains.

Looking at the brain at rest

While looking at the brain in its basal state when the activity was "at rest" before attempting to memorize a list of items or after a memory had been stored Dr. Slutsky's team could actually "see" where synapses differ at different dendritic branches in the neuronal network. Those branches of neurons close to a cell body displayed a larger number of weak synapses, while the most distant branches were composed of a smaller number of strong synapses.

"Why the difference?" they asked. GABA was the answer. Higher concentrations of GABA near a synapse induced a stronger activation of its receptors, weakening basal synapse strength. As a result, GABA makes this synapse more liable to the formation of new memories, the researchers propose.

Dr. Slutsky, who previously discovered a basal-state regulator molecule, says that the research may also have implications for treating diseases of the mind. "We found that amyloid-beta, a well-known hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, regulates basal synapse strength in an opposite way to GABA," she notes, suggesting that an increase in the basal activity of synapses may initiate memory decline in Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Experiments in the study were done using neuronal cultures and brain slices of rats subjected to molecular biology, optical imaging and electrophysiological techniques. The study also constituted a technical achievement, since it used advanced imaging techniques such as fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) spectroscopy that looked at protein-to-protein interactions in the brain at the 10 nanometer scale. In the past, such fine resolution was impossible ― brain scientists could only invest
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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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