New mechanism for long-term memory formation discovered

March 25, 2013

UC Irvine neurobiologists have found a novel molecular mechanism that helps trigger the formation of long-term memory. The researchers believe the discovery of this mechanism adds another piece to the puzzle in the ongoing effort to uncover the mysteries of memory and, potentially, certain intellectual disabilities.

In a study led by Marcelo Wood of UC Irvine's Center for the of Learning & Memory, the team investigated the role of this mechanism – a gene designated Baf53b – in long-term memory formation. Baf53b is one of several proteins making up a molecular complex called nBAF.

Mutations in the proteins of the nBAF complex have been linked to several intellectual disorders, including Coffin-Siris syndrome, Nicolaides-Baraitser syndrome and sporadic autism. One of the key questions the researchers addressed is how mutations in components of the nBAF complex lead to cognitive impairments.

In their study, Wood and his colleagues used mice bred with mutations in Baf53b. While this genetic modification did not affect the mice's ability to learn, it did notably inhibit long-term memories from forming and severely impaired synaptic function.

"These findings present a whole new way to look at how long-term memories form," said Wood, associate professor of neurobiology & behavior. "They also provide a mechanism by which mutations in the proteins of the nBAF complex may underlie the development of intellectual disability disorders characterized by significant cognitive impairments."

How does this mechanism regulate gene expression required for long-term memory formation? Most genes are tightly packaged by a chromatin structure – chromatin being what compacts DNA so that it fits inside the nucleus of a cell. That compaction mechanism represses gene expression. Baf53b, and the nBAF complex, physically open the chromatin structure so specific genes required for long-term memory formation are turned on. The mutated forms of Baf53b did not allow for this necessary gene expression.

"The results from this study reveal a powerful new mechanism that increases our understanding of how genes are regulated for ," Wood said. "Our next step is to identify the key genes the nBAF complex regulates. With that information, we can begin to understand what can go wrong in intellectual disability disorders, which paves a path toward possible therapeutics."

The findings appear online today in Nature Neuroscience.

Explore further: Uncovering secrets of how intellect and behavior emerge during childhood

Related Stories

Novel storage mechanism allows command, control of memory

March 5, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Introductions at a party seemingly go in one ear and out the other. However, if you meet someone two or three times during the party, you are more likely to remember his or her name. Your brain has taken ...

Recommended for you

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 ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...

Neurons encoding hand shapes identified in human brain

November 23, 2015

Neural prosthetic devices, which include small electrode arrays implanted in the brain, can allow paralyzed patients to control the movement of a robotic limb, whether that limb is attached to the individual or not. In May ...

Wireless sensor enables study of traumatic brain injury

November 23, 2015

A new system that uses a wireless implant has been shown to record for the first time how brain tissue deforms when subjected to the kind of shock that causes blast-induced trauma commonly seen in combat veterans.

Neuroscientists reveal how the brain can enhance connections

November 18, 2015

When the brain forms memories or learns a new task, it encodes the new information by tuning connections between neurons. MIT neuroscientists have discovered a novel mechanism that contributes to the strengthening of these ...


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.