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

esearchers injected into the brains of rats an amnesic compound that blocks glycogenolysis (the breakdown of glycogen), and prevented the learning-dependent release of lactate. They did this both before and after "inhibitory avoidance learning," in which the rats learn to avoid a place where they previously had an unpleasant experience. They also injected some rats with both the amnesic compound and lactate.

The researchers found that the rats that were injected with the compound only, either before or after the unpleasant experience, had significantly impaired long-term memory. However, lactate together with the blocking compound served to "rescue" or reduce memory loss. Short-term memory and learning were not impacted by the presence of the amnestic compound or lactate.

Since it is known that glucose is an important energy source and can modulate memory retention, Dr. Alberini's team wanted to see if similar benefits were achieved by using glucose rather than lactate in the study. They injected glucose in amounts equicaloric to the lactate used in the first study into the brains of rats that also received the amnesic compound before inhibitory avoidance training. The researchers saw no rescue effect on long-term memory but after increasing the dose of glucose by three times, they saw a positivethough transientimpact.

"These results show that when a lot of energy is required, such as in long-term memory formation, glucose is not sufficient, or is less efficient, for long-term formation and maintenance," said Dr. Alberini. "Now that we know that lactate has this critical function, we can study why it does and why glucose does not have the same impact."

Dr. Alberini and her team plan to further study the role of lactate in long-term memory formation to find how it can be used as a potential target for neurodegenerative diseases. This study is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.


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