Discovery of gatekeeper nerve cells explains the effect of nicotine on learning and memory

October 7, 2012

Swedish researchers at Uppsala University have, together with Brazilian collaborators, discovered a new group of nerve cells that regulate processes of learning and memory. These cells act as gatekeepers and carry a receptor for nicotine, which can explain our ability to remember and sort information.

The discovery of the gatekeeper cells, which are part of a network together with several other in the hippocampus, reveal new fundamental knowledge about . The study is published today in .

The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is important for consolidation of information into memories and helps us to learn new things. The newly discovered gatekeeper nerve cells, also called OLM-alpha2 cells, provide an explanation to how the flow of information is controlled in the hippocampus.

"It is known that improves including learning and memory, but this is the first time that an identified nerve is linked to the effects of nicotine", says Professor Klas Kullander at Scilifelab and Uppsala University.

Humans think, learn and memorize with the help of nerve cells sending signals between each other. Some nerve cells send signals far away to other areas of the brain, while other neurons send signals within the same area. Local nerve circuits in the hippocampus process impressions and turn some of them into memories. But how does this work? And how can nicotine improve this mechanism?

The new research study literally sheds new light on this intriguing mechanism.

"We have used a new technology called optogenetics, in which light is used to stimulate selected nerve cells. We were amazed when we discovered that light activation of the gatekeeper cells alters the flow of information in the hippocampus in the same way as nicotine does", explains coauthor Richardson Leão.

Through research on mice, the scientists showed that the gatekeeper cells connect to the principal cell of the hippocampus. Active gatekeeper cells prioritize local circuit signals arriving to the principal cell, while inactive gatekeeper cells allow inputs from long-distance targets. Nicotine activates the gatekeeper cell, thereby prioritizing the formation of memories via local inputs.

Next, the scientists want to test which types of memory and learning may be selected for by the activation of gatekeeper cells. With such knowledge, it may be possible to stimulate these nerve cells by artificial means, for example by selective nicotine-like drugs, to improve memory and learning in humans.

"Ideally, one would like to access the positive effects of nicotine on the 's ability to process information, but without creating the strong nicotine dependence that keep smokers addicted to inhaling dangerous tobacco smoke", says Klas Kullander.

Explore further: Learning left from right

Related Stories

Learning left from right

December 21, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Pop psychology assertions about left-brain/right-brain differences are pretty much tosh. Our personalities are not dominated by a battle between the creative skills residing in one half of the brain competing ...

Long-term methadone treatment can affect nerve cells in brain

August 15, 2012

Long-term methadone treatment can cause changes in the brain, according to recent studies from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The results show that treatment may affect the nerve cells in the brain. The studies ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2012
Well i smoke like a chimney, yet i've got a memory like.. one of them round things, with all holes in it?
5 / 5 (2) Oct 07, 2012
I'm told there are three things you lose when you get older:-

The first has to do with memory and the second has to do with that round rubber thing in my back pocket.
3 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2012
I'm told there are three things you lose when you get older:-

The first has to do with memory and the second has to do with that round rubber thing in my back pocket.

You mean the rubber stress relief ring? I don't get it... I must be old already...
not rated yet Oct 15, 2012
JijiDuru pondered with melancholy
You mean the rubber stress relief ring? I don't get it... I must be old already...
:hmmm: Yes, I am subsequently advised it is a very specialised stress relief ring that often (but not always) involves a partner preferably (but not always) someone with the relevant compatible chromosomes...

I have been told with some authority the stress relief can be significant but sadly not repeatedly with the same device, further purchases are necessary, sounds like a government or commercial conspiracy along with suitably soft tissues !

Furthermore, the name 'Ansell' comes to mind but I cant recall if this is the seller of the stress rubber ring, the prospective partner or their employment agency or who to call at the EPA in the case of an emergency !

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.