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Researchers find new mechanism behind the formation and maintenance of long-term memories
Date:3/3/2011

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that lactate, a type of energy fuel in the brain, plays a critical role in the formation of long-term memory. These findings have important implications for common illnesses like Alzheimer's disease, other neurodegenerative disorders, aging-related memory impairment and diabetes. The research is published in the March 4th issue of the journal Cell.

The study is the first to closely evaluate the role of lactate and the effect of its transport from astrocytesa subtype of brain cellsto neurons in long-term memory in mammals, said lead researcher Cristina Alberini, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "Little is known about the role of astrocytes in cognitive functions. The results further prove that astrocytes are much more actively involved in memory formation than previously thought, and that lactate is a promising target for investigating novel mechanisms that may be the cause of deficits of long-term memories." The data have potential significant implications in understanding and treating diseases like Alzheimer's, dementia, and diabetes, she said.

Researchers historically have believed that the brain cells called astrocytes only played a supportive role to neurons and had no major roles in higher brain functions. As a result, research on the development of long-term memory has largely focused on neurons. However, in recent years, data have shown that astrocytes are more involved than previously thought. Working with this evidence, Dr. Alberini and her team found that lactate released by astrocytes has a critical function in long-term memory development.

Astrocytes but not neurons contain glycogen, the storage form of glucose. Dr. Alberini's research supports a previous hypothesis that lactate produced by astrocytes provides fuel to neurons, and shows that lactate in the brain is elevated during long-term memory formation.

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