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Scientists identify brain's 'molecular memory switch'
Date:3/28/2013

Scientists have identified a key molecule responsible for triggering the chemical processes in our brain linked to our formation of memories. The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Neural Circuits, reveal a new target for therapeutic interventions to reverse the devastating effects of memory loss.

The BBSRC-funded research, led by scientists at the University of Bristol, aimed to better understand the mechanisms that enable us to form memories by studying the molecular changes in the hippocampus the part of the brain involved in learning.

Previous studies have shown that our ability to learn and form memories is due to an increase in synaptic communication called Long Term Potentiation [LTP]. This communication is initiated through a chemical process triggered by calcium entering brain cells and activating a key enzyme called 'Ca2+ responsive kinase' [CaMKII]. Once this protein is activated by calcium it triggers a switch in its own activity enabling it to remain active even after the calcium has gone. This special ability of CaMKII to maintain its own activity has been termed 'the molecular memory switch'.

Until now, the question still remained as to what triggers this chemical process in our brain that allows us to learn and form long-term memories. The research team, comprising scientists from the University's School of Physiology and Pharmacology, conducted experiments using the common fruit fly [Drosophila] to analyse and identify the molecular mechanisms behind this switch. Using advanced molecular genetic techniques that allowed them to temporarily inhibit the flies' memory the team were able to identify a gene called CASK as the synaptic molecule regulating this 'memory switch'.

Dr James Hodge, the study's lead author, said: "Fruit flies are remarkably compatible for this type of study as they possess similar neuronal function and neural responses to humans. Although small they are very smart, f
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Contact: Caroline Clancy
caroline.clancy@bristol.ac.uk
44-011-792-88086
University of Bristol
Source:Eurekalert

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