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Finding How Memories are Made

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 02:48PM

The brain is an extraordinary organ that humanity may never fully grasp, but that does not stop us from trying. One of the fundamental functions of the human brain is to store memories, and for some the brain has difficulty forming new memories, so a better understanding of the processes involved could lead to treatments for them. Now researchers at Vanderbilt University have found a link between a signaling protein and the formation of memories.

Neurons have two types of fibers that reach out from them, dendrites and axons, with the axons sending signals that dendrites receive. Each dendrite is covered in filaments called filopodia that will develop into spines when they touch an axon, and these connections are what store memories. The Vanderbilt researchers found that the signaling protein Asef2 promotes spine formation by activating another protein, and is used by another to guide specific spines. Previously Asef2 has been linked to disorders including autism, Alzheimer's, and Down Syndrome. Autism has been associated with immature spines, which fail to form good connections, and Alzheimer's is well known for disrupting a person's memory.

The hope is to one day understand the mechanisms well enough to develop treatments to restore spine formation. Until then, we have a lot more studying to do to unravel our brains at a cellular and molecular level.

Source: Vanderbilt University

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