DALLAS April 2, 2009 Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have shed light on how the neurotransmitter dopamine helps brain cells process important information.
Researchers found in a study of mouse cells that this neurotransmitter, one of the molecules used by nerve cells to communicate with one another, causes certain brain cells to become more flexible and changes brain-cell circuitry to process important information differently than mundane information.
"This can help one remember a new, important episode as distinct from any other episode, such as remembering where you parked your car today versus yesterday," said Dr. Robert Greene, professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study published in the March 11 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.
"If we can one day manipulate the way that salient information is processed, we might be able to not only improve learning, but also improve the learning needed to extinguish severe fear responsiveness, such as when a soldier can't forget emotional war memories associated with post-traumatic stress disorder," he said.
Dr. Greene said the research also could have implications for addictions and schizophrenia, because those conditions are associated with alterations in dopamine in the brain.
Researchers have known that dopamine is released in the brain in association with experiencing "important" events and remembering salient acts, such as learning to avoid a hot stove or that a good grade is rewarded. The current research focused on how dopamine operates on the cells associated with this type of memory formation.
Dr. Greene, director of the National Clozapine Coordinating Center at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and his research team isolated slices of the hippocampus region of the animals' brains and then electrically stimulated the cells. To simulate what happens in the brain in response to a memory-
|Contact: LaKisha Ladson|
UT Southwestern Medical Center