Scientists capture the first image of memories being made

Posted By News On June 18, 2009 - 6:50pm
Scientists capture the first image of memories being made

The ability to learn and to establish new memories is essential to our daily existence and identity; enabling us to navigate through the world. A new study by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro), McGill University and University of California, Los Angeles has captured an image for the first time of a mechanism, specifically protein translation, which underlies long-term memory formation. The finding provides the first visual evidence that when a new memory is formed new proteins are made locally at the synapse - the connection between nerve cells - increasing the strength of the synaptic connection and reinforcing the memory. The study published in Science, is important for understanding how memory traces are created and the ability to monitor it in real time will allow a detailed understanding of how memories are formed.

When considering what might be going on in the brain at a molecular level two essential properties of memory need to be taken into account. First, because a lot of information needs to be maintained over a long time there has to be some degree of stability. Second, to allow for learning and adaptation the system also needs to be highly flexible.

The increase in green fluorescence represents the imaging of local translation at synapses during long-term synaptic plasticity.

(Photo Credit: Science)

For this reason, research has focused on synapses which are the main site of exchange and storage in the brain. They form a vast but also constantly fluctuating network of connections whose ability to change and adapt, called synaptic plasticity, may be the fundamental basis of learning and memory.

"But, if this network is constantly changing, the question is how do memories stay put, how are they formed? It has been known for some time that an important step in long-term memory formation is "translation", or the production, of new proteins locally at the synapse, strengthening the synaptic connection in the reinforcement of a memory, which until now has never been imaged," says Dr. Wayne Sossin, neuroscientist at The Neuro and co-investigator in the study. "Using a translational reporter, a fluorescent protein that can be easily detected and tracked, we directly visualized the increased local translation, or protein synthesis, during memory formation. Importantly, this translation was synapse-specific and it required activation of the post-synaptic cell, showing that this step required cooperation between the pre and post-synaptic compartments, the parts of the two neurons that meet at the synapse. Thus highly regulated local translation occurs at synapses during long-term plasticity and requires trans-synaptic signals."

Long-term memory and synaptic plasticity require changes in gene expression and yet can occur in a synapse-specific manner. This study provides evidence that a mechanism that mediates this gene expression during neuronal plasticity involves regulated translation of localized mRNA at stimulated synapses. These findings are instrumental in establishing the molecular processes involved in long-term memory formation and provide insight into diseases involving memory impairment.

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the WM Keck Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Good news for all those wannabe actors who are trying to learn how to remember all the long lines of script.

Did somebody already invent the computer which can handle the mass of informations which would be needed to store these informations?
At least a chemical mix would perhaps make it easier to store it!

cut off bread and eat more proteins man. or you'll never remember this!

Great article! So, this means that repetition is the key to retaining the information. The more you activate those synapses the stronger the connection. The adage that it takes three times to remember something might be on to something...but I'd think it would take more times. So that means those with "bad memories" just need practice!

Fascinating! It seems to explain what happens when a memory is formed (more protein!) but what about memory storage? It still doesn't seem to explain it. Where do all these memories go?

@Claude Nougat

The memory is the synaptic connection. The brain works by having each neuron act as a single addition/subtraction calculator for electrical charges, when the neuron gets to the correct "number" (or voltage) it fires and passes on a signal which is received by the next neuron. The passing of information by way of electrical current from neuron to neuron takes place at the synapse. Memory comes in at these synapses since each one can respond differently to the information coming in. (eg in our neurons as addition/subtraction machines example: even if the first neuron is sending a "1" signal, the second neuron might read that as a "2" or a "3") Memory is stored in the relationships that these synapses have towards the neuron along with what relationship that neuron has to its neighbors. With experience each synapse is either strengthened or weakened in how much it influences each neuron. So behaviors are modified based on the network of neurons and previous experiences which have shaped their connections.