The Chemistry of Memory

Source: Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Summary: Researchers in a new study has revealed that a specific molecular factor is linked with the process of synaptic plasticity and learning.

Memory formation requires subtle changes in the brain structures. Continuous modification of synapses provide the functional connections that allow the nerve cells to communicate with each other. The long-term changes involved in this process are encoded by messenger RNAs (produced inside the nucleus of the neuron) and travel to the appropriate synapses to program the synthesis of specific proteins “on-site”. In the previous studies, Michael Kiebler has found that an RNA-binding protein Staufen2 plays a key role in transporting these mRNAs to their destinations. But how this molecular process actually alters learning and behavior was not clearly understood. Now, a study carried out by the researchers from Ludwig Maximilian University, Mannheim University, and Seville University has revealed that decreased levels of Staufen2 are linked to a specific impairment of memory. The study findings were published in the journal Genome Biology.

Memory and its molecular processes

Michael Kiebler probes the molecular processes that underlie learning. Credit: LMU/Joerg Koch

The research team used a genetic rat model and observed the effects of decreased levels of Staufen2 protein on memory using behavioral tests which measure the efficacy of spatial, temporal and associated memory. These tasks are dependent on synaptic plasticity (the ability of the synapses to strengthen or weaken over time) in the hippocampus. The results clearly showed that decrease in Staufen2 in the forebrain has a negative impact on several features of memory, changes in nerve-cell morphology and synapse function. And also found that both LTP (Long-term potentiation – persistent increase in synaptic strength) and LTD (Long-term depression – activity-dependent reduction in the efficacy of neuronal synapses) are affected.

Scientist Michael Kiebler said, “This work has enabled us, for the first time, to link a specific molecular factor – the RNA-binding protein Staufen2 – with synaptic plasticity and learning”, “Furthermore, our approach promises to yield completely new insights into the molecular mechanisms that mediate learning.”

More Information: Stefan M. Berger et al, “Forebrain-specific, conditional silencing of Staufen2 alters synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory in rats”, Genome Biology (2017). DOI: 10.1186/s13059-017-1350-8


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