Researchers have now identified a group of proteins that play a role in long-term memory formation.
The study focuses on a family of proteins called Wnts, which send signals from the outside to the inside of a cell, inducing a cellular response crucial for many aspects of embryonic development, including stem cell differentiation, as well as for normal functioning of the adult brain.
Ron Davis, chair of the The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) Department of Neuroscience, said that by removing the function of three proteins in the Wnt signaling pathway, they produced a deficit in long-term but not short-term memory.
He said that the pathway is clearly part of the conversion of short-term memory to the long-term stable form, which occurs through changes in gene expression.
In the new study, the scientists inactivated the expression of several Wnt signaling proteins in the mushroom bodies of adult flies-part of the fly brain that plays a role in learning and memory.
Davis said that the resulting memory disruption suggests that Wnt signaling participates actively in the formation of long-term memory, rather than having some general, non-specific effect on behavior.
The study has been published online in the journal Cell Reports.