Brain study reveals how long-term memories are erased

March 31, 2016, University of Edinburgh
Credit: Human Brain Project

Vital clues about how the brain erases long term memories have been uncovered by researchers.

The study in rats reveals how can be the result of an active deletion process rather than a failure to remember.

It points towards new ways of tackling loss associated with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

The findings could also help scientists to understand why some unwanted memories are so long-lasting - such as those of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.

Memories are maintained by chemical signalling between that relies on specialised called AMPA receptors. The more AMPA receptors there are on the surface where brain cells connect, the stronger the memory.

The team led by the University of Edinburgh found that the process of actively wiping memories happens when brain cells remove AMPA receptors from the connections between brain cells.

Over time, if the memory is not recalled, the AMPA receptors may fall in number and the memory is gradually erased.

The researchers also showed that actively forgetting information in this way helps the animals to adapt their behaviour according to their surroundings.

Blocking the removal of AMPA receptors with a drug that keeps them at the surface of the cell stopped the natural forgetting of memories, the study found.

Drugs that target AMPA receptor removal are already being investigated as potential therapies to prevent memory loss associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's and dementia.

However, researchers say that active forgetting could be an important facet of learning and memory. Further research is needed to understand what consequences blocking this process could have on the ability to take on new information and retrieve existing memories.

Dr Oliver Hardt, of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Our study looks at the biological processes that happen in the brain when we forget something. The next step is to work out why some memories survive whilst others are erased. If we can understand how these memories are protected, it could one-day lead to new therapies that stop or slow pathological ."

The study is published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Explore further: Scientists discover neural mechanisms in mouse brains that indicate that we actively forget as we learn

More information: P. V. Migues et al. Blocking Synaptic Removal of GluA2-Containing AMPA Receptors Prevents the Natural Forgetting of Long-Term Memories, Journal of Neuroscience (2016). DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3333-15.2016

Related Stories

Scientists discover neural mechanisms in mouse brains that indicate that we actively forget as we learn

March 18, 2016
They say that once you've learned to ride a bicycle, you never forget how to do it. But new research suggests that while learning, the brain is actively trying to forget. The study, by scientists at EMBL and University Pablo ...

Scientists view effect of whisker tickling on mouse brains

February 2, 2015
Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University have succeeded in peering into the brains of live mice with such precision that they were able to see how the position of specific proteins changed as memories were forged. The ...

How drugs can help your brain encode memories

January 14, 2016
Medical researchers at the University of Bristol have uncovered a fundamental mechanism that explains the interaction between brain state and the neural triggers responsible for learning. The discoveries, made by researchers ...

Key brain receptor sheds light on neurological conditions, researchers say

March 3, 2016
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that a key receptor in the brain, once thought to only strengthen synapses, can also weaken them, offering new insights into the mechanisms driving ...

The significance of non-motor microtubule-associated protein in maintaining synaptic plasticity thorough a novel mechani

February 5, 2016
NMDA glutamate receptors, which function as receptors that bond with glutamates, are known to be deeply involved in animal memory and learning. In order for memories to be created inside the brain, these NMDA glutamate receptors ...

The spatial and temporal dynamics of specific glutamate receptors in the brain

October 6, 2014
Dr. Uwe Schulte, Dr. Jochen Schwenk, Prof. Dr. Bernd Fakler, and their team have elucidated the enormous spatial and temporal dynamics in protein composition of the AMPA-type glutamate receptors, the most important excitatory ...

Recommended for you

When the eyes move, the eardrums move, too

January 23, 2018
Simply moving the eyes triggers the eardrums to move too, says a new study by Duke University neuroscientists.

Cognitive training helps regain a younger-working brain

January 23, 2018
Relentless cognitive decline as we age is worrisome, and it is widely thought to be an unavoidable negative aspect of normal aging. Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, however, ...

Lifting the veil on 'valence,' brain study reveals roots of desire, dislike

January 23, 2018
The amygdala is a tiny hub of emotions where in 2016 a team led by MIT neuroscientist Kay Tye found specific populations of neurons that assign good or bad feelings, or "valence," to experience. Learning to associate pleasure ...

Your brain responses to music reveal if you're a musician or not

January 23, 2018
How your brain responds to music listening can reveal whether you have received musical training, according to new Nordic research conducted in Finland (University of Jyväskylä and AMI Center) and Denmark (Aarhus University).

New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components

January 22, 2018
Neuron-like cells created from a readily available cell line have allowed researchers to investigate how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. A team led by researchers ...

Finding unravels nature of cognitive inflexibility in fragile X syndrome

January 22, 2018
Mice with the genetic defect that causes fragile X syndrome (FXS) learn and remember normally, but show an inability to learn new information that contradicts what they initially learned, shows a new study by a team of neuroscientists. ...

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.