DREAM - A gene, which till now scientists associated with the perception of pain, apparently play other roles in the human body too, such as controlling learning and memory.
In a 2002 study on mice, scientists found that DREAM controlled all kinds of pain, whether chronic or acute and thus it was dubbed as the "Master-Gene of pain perception".
However, Josef Penninger, meanwhile scientific director of IMBA, the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, wanted to find out other functions of DREAM.
Thus, Penninger, in collaboration with neurobiologists from the University Pablo de Olivade, devised experiments to follow up on the previous findings.
For the study, the researchers subjected DREAM-less mice to numerous neurological tests and analysed their memory skills.
And the findings were quite were striking-without DREAM, the mice were able to learn faster and remember better.
In fact, the brains of aged mice (18 months) showed learning capabilities similar to those of very young mice, thus making DREAM a potential genetic candidate for explaining old age dementia.
In fact, DREAM could also have its roots in regulating Alzheimer's disease as the characteristic accumulation of amyloid plaques in brain cells during Alzheimer's is believed to be caused by Calcium-imbalance, which is also responsible for tuning the activity of the DREAM-gene.
Calcium homeostasis may thus be the link between pain perception, learning and memory.
The conclusion is supported by observations of patients suffering from chronic pain- very often their ability to memorize is strikingly reduced and they need a lot more time to learn than individuals without pain.
"It is absolutely fascinating that we found a gene which at the same time regulates pain, learning and old age memory function, and it is of great interest to the millions of people suffering from chronic pain that we follow up on these results," said Josef Penninger.