Newly found 'volume control' in the brain promotes learning, memory
Scientists have long wondered how nerve cell activity in the brain's hippocampus, the epicenter for learning and memory, is controlled—too much synaptic communication between neurons can trigger a seizure, and too little impairs information processing, promoting neurodegeneration. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center say they now have an answer. In the January 10 issue of Neuron, they report that synapses that link two different groups of nerve cells in the hippocampus serve as a kind of "volume control," keeping neuronal activity throughout that region at a steady, optimal level.
"Think of these special synapses like the fingers of God and man touching in Michelangelo's famous fresco in the Sistine Chapel," says the study's senior investigator, Daniel Pak, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology. "Now substitute the figures for two different groups of neurons that need to perform smoothly. The touching of the fingers, or synapses, controls activity levels of neurons within the hippocampus."
The hippocampus is a processing unit that receives input from the cortex and consolidates that information in terms of learning and memory. Neurons known as granule cells, located in the hippocampus' dentate gyrus, receive transmissions from the cortex. Those granule cells then pass that information to the other set of neurons (those in the CA3 region of the hippocampus, in this study) via the synaptic fingers.
Those fingers dial up, or dial down, the volume of neurotransmission from the granule cells to the CA3 region to keep neurotransmission in the learning and memory areas of the hippocampus at an optimal flow—a concept known as homeostatic plasticity. "If granule cells try to transmit too much activity, we found, the synaptic junction tamps down the volume of transmission by weakening their connections, allowing the proper amount of information to travel to CA3 neurons," says Pak. "If there is not enough activity being transmitted by the granule cells, the synapses become stronger, pumping up the volume to CA3 so that information flow remains constant."
There are many such touching fingers in the hippocampus, connecting the so-called "mossy fibers" of the granule cells to neurons in the CA3 region. But importantly, not every one of the billions of neurons in the hippocampus needs to set its own level of transmission from one nerve cell to the other, says Pak.
To explain, he uses another analogy. "It had previously been thought that neurons act separately like cars, each working to keep their speed at a constant level even though signal traffic may be fast or slow. But we wondered how these neurons could process learning and memory information efficiently, while also regulating the speed by which they process and communicate that information.
"We believe, based on our study, that only the mossy fiber synapses on the CA3 neurons control the level of activity for the hippocampus—they are like the engine on a train that sets the speed for all the other cars, or neurons, attached to it," Pak says. "That frees up the other neurons to do the job they are tasked with doing—processing and encoding information in the forms of learning and memory."
Not only does the study offer a new model for how homeostatic plasticity in the hippocampus can co-exist with learning and memory, it also suggests a new therapeutic avenue to help patients with uncontrollable seizures, he says.
"The CA3 region is highly susceptible to seizures, so if we understand how homeostasis is maintained in these neurons, we could potentially manipulate the system. When there is an excessive level of CA3 neuronal activity in a patient, we could learn how to therapeutically turn it down."
Journal reference: Neuron
Provided by Georgetown University Medical Center
- Learning requires rhythmical activity of neurons Sep 26, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Transcription factor Prox1 controls hippocampal cellular diversity, researchers find Oct 16, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Study finds how brain remembers single events Mar 18, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- Stem cells are good for the brain Jul 15, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Astrocytes affect brain's information signaling Jun 14, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Why is zone 1 in liver more prone to ischemic injury?
May 23, 2013 Hi, Is it because around central vein, there is only deoxygenated blood from the vein where as in the periphery there is hepatic artery. Also why...
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
May 22, 2013 As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
New research presented today shows that formation of new neurons in the hippocampus - a brain region known for its importance in learning and remembering - could cause forgetting of old memories by causing a reorganization ...
Neuroscience 20 hours ago | 4 / 5 (4) | 0
How can healthy people who hear voices help schizophrenics? Finding the answer for this is at the centre of research conducted at the University of Bergen.
Neuroscience 20 hours ago | 4 / 5 (2) | 2
One of the major frontiers of modern science is a comprehensive understanding of the human brain and its functions to guide the development of new technologies in information and communication. In a major announcement for ...
Neuroscience 21 hours ago | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Regulating the distribution of power in neurons is done by a system that makes the national electric grid look simple by comparison. Each neuron has several thousand mitochondria confined ...
Neuroscience May 23, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (9) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—The human brain is able to identify individuals' voices by comparing them against an internal 'average voice' prototype, according to neuroscientists.
Neuroscience May 23, 2013 | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 3 |
(Medical Xpress)—A new study by researchers in the US has shown that an ancient virus can be modified to help in the fight against the simian immunodeficiency virus SIV, which is the equivalent in monkeys ...
20 hours ago | 5 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Two mutations central to the development of infantile myofibromatosis (IM)—a disorder characterized by multiple tumors involving the skin, bone, and soft tissue—may provide new therapeutic targets, according to researchers ...
15 hours ago | 3 / 5 (2) | 0 |
Women at a particular stage in their monthly menstrual cycle may be more vulnerable to some of the psychological side-effects associated with stressful experiences, according to a study from UCL.
17 hours ago | 3.7 / 5 (3) | 0 |
Ernie Pyle – an iconic war correspondent in World War II – reportedly said "There are no atheists in foxholes." A new joint study between two brothers at Cornell and Virginia Wesleyan found that only ...
20 hours ago | 2.5 / 5 (4) | 2
Biological processes are generally based on events at the molecular and cellular level. To understand what happens in the course of infections, diseases or normal bodily functions, scientists would need to ...
18 hours ago | 5 / 5 (5) | 0 |
(Medical Xpress)—The way Alzheimer's disease is portrayed by advocacy groups and the media is having undue influence on the euthanasia debate, according to a Deakin University nursing ethics professor.
21 hours ago | not rated yet | 2