Friday, 17 Aug, 2007 Science

Scientists Found a Way to Store and Erase Memories Long After Their Formation


The Head of the Weizmann Institute's Neurobiology Department, Prof. Yadin Dudai, together with his co-workers tried to answer questions related to human's brain, and namely what really happens inside our brain when we try to remember something and are our memories recorded in a stable physical change, like writing a permanent inscription on a clay tablet.

Scientists found that the process, during which a person stores long-term memories, is in fact much more dynamic. This process involves a small molecular machine that in its turn must run constantly in order to keep one's memories going.

Researchers were also able to find that in case the machine is briefly jammed this can lead to the erasure of a person's long-term memories. This discovery should be useful in finding ways to treating memory problems.

Prof. Yadin Dudai and a Reut Shema, a research student, and Todd Sacktor, the representative of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, made experiments on rats, training them to avoid certain tastes. After the training the researchers injected a drug which meant to block a specific protein into the rats' taste cortex, which is an area of the brain that is being associated with taste memory.

Researchers draw a hypothesis, based on earlier research made by Sacktor, that the blocked protein, which is an enzyme PKMzeta, plays a role similar to a miniature memory "machine", the job of which is to keep the memory up and running. One enzyme leads to structural and functional changes that occur in other proteins: PKMzeta, found in the synapses (contact points between nerve cells) - swoops some facets of synaptic contacts structure.

According to researchers, jamming PKMzeta could reverse the change within the synapse. This goal was successfully achieved: in the end, regardless of the taste which rats were trained to avoid, just after a single shot of the drug, they forget their learned.

The new technique proved to be successful a month after the memories of rats were formed (which is somewhat analogous to years in humans). The results showed that all unpleasant memories of the taste really did disappear. This discovery was made for the first time, which means that for the first time scientists were able to erase memories long after their formation.

The research made by Prof. Yadin Dudai and his team was supported by the Norman and Helen Asher Center for Brain Imaging; the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Center for Neurosciences; as well as the Carl and Micaela Einhorn-Dominic Brain Research Institute; the Irwin Green Alzheimer's Research Fund; and the Sylvia and Martin Snow Charitable Foundation.

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