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UT Southwestern researchers discover brain's memory 'buffer' in single cells
Date:1/25/2009

DALLAS Jan. 25, 2009 Individual nerve cells in the front part of the brain can hold traces of memories on their own for as long as a minute and possibly longer, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found.

The study, available online and appearing in the February issue of Nature Neuroscience, is the first to identify the specific signal that establishes nonpermanent cellular memory and reveals how the brain holds temporary information. It has implications for addiction, attention disorders and stress-related memory loss, said Dr. Don Cooper, assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study conducted in mice.

Researchers have known that permanent memories are stored when the excitatory amino acid glutamate activates ion channels on nerve cells in the brain to reorganize and strengthen the cells' connections with one another. But this process takes minutes to hours to turn on and off and is too slow to buffer, or temporarily hold, rapidly incoming information.

The researchers found that rapid-fire inputs less than a second long initiate a cellular memory process in single cells lasting as long as minute, a process called metabotropic glutamate transmission. This transmission in the most highly evolved brain region holds moment-to-moment information.

These cellular findings have implications for how the human brain stores rapidly changing information, like the temporary memory a card shark uses when counting cards in a game of Black Jack and, as casinos have figured out, it is the memory that is most sensitive to the disruptive effects of alcohol and noisy distractions, Dr. Cooper said.

"It's more like RAM [random access memory] on a computer than memory stored on a disk," Dr. Cooper said. "The memory on the disk is more permanent and you can go back and access the same information repeatedly. RAM memory is rewritable temporary storage that allows multitasking.
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Contact: LaKisha Ladson
lakisha.ladson@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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