Researchers unlock key to memory storage in brain

April 19, 2007

Scientists know little about how the brain assigns cells to participate in encoding and storing memories. Now a UCLA/University of Toronto team has discovered that a protein called CREB controls the odds of a neuron playing a role in memory formation. The April 20 edition of Science reports the findings, which suggest a new approach for preserving memory in people suffering from Alzheimer's or other brain injury.

"Making a memory is not a conscious act," explained Alcino Silva, principal investigator and a professor of neurobiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Learning triggers a cascade of chemicals in the brain that influence which memories are kept and which are lost.

"Earlier studies have linked the CREB protein to keeping memories stable," added Silva, a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute. "We suspected it also played a key role in channeling memories to brain cells that are ready to store them."

Silva and his colleagues used a mouse model to evaluate their hypothesis. They implanted CREB into a virus, which they introduced into some of the cells in the animal's amygdala, a brain region critical to emotional memory.

Next they tested the mouse's ability to recall a specific cage it had visited before. The cage was outfitted with patterned walls and a unique smell.

To visualize which brain cells stored the mouse's memories about the cage, the scientists tracked a genetic marker that reveals recent neuron activity. When the team examined the animals' amygdalas after the experiment, they found substantial amounts of CREB and the marker in neurons.

"We discovered that the amount of CREB influences whether or not the brain stores a memory," said Silva. "If a cell is low in CREB, it is less likely to keep a memory. If the cell is high in CREB, it is more likely to store the memory."

Human implications of the new research could prove profound.

"By artificially manipulating CREB levels among groups of cells, we can determine where the brain stores its memories," he explained. "This approach could potentially be used to preserve memory in people suffering from Alzheimer's or other brain injury. We may be able to guide memories into healthy cells and away from sick cells in dying regions of the brain."

Our memories define who we are, so learning how the brain stores memory is fundamental to understanding what it is to be human, Silva observed.

"A memory is not a static snapshot," he said. "Memories serve a purpose. They are about acquiring information that helps us deal with similar situations in the future. What we recall helps us learn from our past experiences and better shape our lives."

Source: University of California - Los Angeles

Explore further: A new method to instill curiosity in reinforcement learning agents

Related Stories

A new method to instill curiosity in reinforcement learning agents

October 17, 2018
Several real-world tasks have sparse rewards and this poses challenges for the development of reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms. A solution to this problem is to allow an agent to autonomously create a reward for itself, ...

Brain-inspired algorithm helps AI systems multitask and remember

October 17, 2018
Behind most of today's artificial intelligence technologies, from self-driving cars to facial recognition and virtual assistants, lie artificial neural networks. Though based loosely on the way neurons communicate in the ...

In the fight against Alzheimer's, Down syndrome may hold vital clues

October 16, 2018
At first glance, Down syndrome (DS) and Alzheimer's disease (AD), two severe brain abnormalities, may seem to have little in common. Down syndrome is a hereditary disease, the source of which has long been recognized—a ...

Do alternative therapies work to treat menopausal symptoms?

October 17, 2018
Of the 80 per cent of women who develop symptoms during menopause, many will experiment with complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) as well as lifestyle changes to treat their symptoms, said Tami Shandro, a University ...

Two seemingly opposing forces in the brain actually cooperate to enhance memory formation

October 12, 2018
The brain allows organisms to learn and adapt to their surroundings. It does this by literally changing the connections, or synapses, between neurons, strengthening meaningful patterns of neural activity in order to store ...

New research shows drinking No 1 Rosemary Water improves memory by up to 15 percent

October 15, 2018
New research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, has shown that drinking a concentrated rosemary extract drink, No 1 Rosemary Water, can boost cognitive and memory performance by up to 15%.

Recommended for you

New findings cast light on lymphatic system, key player in human health

October 16, 2018
Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have broken new ground in understanding how the lymphatic system works, potentially opening the door for future therapies.

New model suggests cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitoring possible using pulse waves

October 16, 2018
A large team of researchers from several institutions in China and the U.S. has developed a model that suggests it should be possible to create a cuffless, non-invasive blood pressure monitor based on measuring pulse waves. ...

Age-related increase in estrogen may cause common men's hernia

October 16, 2018
An age-related increase in estrogen may be the culprit behind inguinal hernias, a condition common among elderly men that often requires corrective surgery, according to a Northwestern Medicine study was published Oct. 15 ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Discovery of inner ear function may improve diagnosis of hearing impairment

October 15, 2018
Results from a research study published in Nature Communications show how the inner ear processes speech, something that has until now been unknown. The authors of the report include researchers from Linköping University, ...

Widespread errors in 'proofreading' cause inherited blindness

October 12, 2018
Mistakes in "proofreading" the genetic code of retinal cells is the cause of a form of inherited blindness, retinitis pigmentosa (RP) caused by mutations in splicing factors.

0 comments

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.