A major discovery in how the brain encodes memories has been made by scientists at UC Santa Barbara. The finding, published in the December 24 issue of the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to the development of new drugs to aid memory.
The team of scientists is the first to uncover a central process in encoding memories that occurs at the level of the synapse, where neurons connect with each other.
"When we learn new things, when we store memories, there are a number of things that have to happen," said senior author Kenneth S. Kosik, co-director and Harriman Chair in Neuroscience Research, at UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute. Kosik is a leading researcher in the area of Alzheimer's disease.
"One of the most important processes is that the synapses -- which cement those memories into place -- have to be strengthened," said Kosik. "In strengthening a synapse you build a connection, and certain synapses are encoding a memory. Those synapses have to be strengthened so that memory is in place and stays there. Strengthening synapses is a very important part of learning. What we have found appears to be one part of how that happens."