Neuroscientists isolate molecular 'when' and 'where' of memory formation

October 15, 2012

Neuroscientists from New York University and the University of California, Irvine have isolated the "when" and "where" of molecular activity that occurs in the formation of short-, intermediate-, and long-term memories. Their findings, which appear in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offer new insights into the molecular architecture of memory formation and, with it, a better roadmap for developing therapeutic interventions for related afflictions.

"Our findings provide a deeper understanding of how memories are created," explained the research team leader Thomas Carew, a professor in NYU's Center for Neural Science and dean of NYU's Faculty of Arts and Science. " is not simply a matter of turning molecules on and off; rather, it results from a complex temporal and spatial relationship of and movement."

Neuroscientists have previously uncovered different aspects of molecular signaling relevant to the formation of memories. But less understood is the spatial relationship between molecules and when they are active during this process.

To address this question, the researchers studied the neurons in Aplysia californica, the California . Aplysia is a that is quite powerful for this type of research because its neurons are 10 to 50 times larger than those of higher organisms, such as vertebrates, and it possesses a relatively small network of neurons—characteristics that readily allow for the examination of molecular signaling during memory formation. Moreover, its coding mechanism for memories is highly conserved in evolution, and thus is similar to that of mammals, making it an appropriate model for understanding how this process works in humans.

The scientists focused their study on two molecules, MAPK and PKA, which earlier research has shown to be involved in many forms of memory and —that is, changes in the brain that occur after neuronal interaction. But less understood was how and where these molecules interacted.

To explore this, the researchers subjected the sea slugs to sensitization training, which induces increased behavioral reflex responsiveness following mild tail shock, or in this study, mild activation of the nerve form the tail. They then examined the subsequent molecular activity of both MAPK and PKA. Both molecules have been shown to be involved in the formation of memory for sensitization, but the nature of their interaction is less clear.

What they found was MAPK and PKA coordinate their activity both spatially and temporally in the formation of memories. Specifically, in the formation of intermediate-term (i.e., hours) and long-term (i.e., days) memories, both MAPK and PKA activity occur, with MAPK spurring PKA action. By contrast, for short-term memories (i.e., less than 30 minutes), only PKA is active, with no involvement of MAPK.

Explore further: Team isolates nerve cells involved in storing long term memory and gene proteins associated with them

Related Stories

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

not rated yet Oct 16, 2012
All brain functions have memorization of any duration.
What causes lateralization of memory specific to any brain function?

(If the molecular memorization occurs continuously everywhere throughout the entire brain.)
not rated yet Oct 16, 2012
Let's compare answers if you have one.

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.