New study conducted by scientists sheds light on how nerve cells make memories by controlling memory-making proteins.
In two studies, in the Jan 24 issue of journal Science, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University used advanced imaging techniques to provide a window into how the brain makes memories.
These insights into the molecular basis of memory were made possible by a technological tour de force never before achieved in animals.
A mouse model developed at Einstein College in which molecules crucial to making memories were given fluorescent "tags" so they could be observed travelling in real time in living brain cells.
Efforts to discover how neurons make memories have long confronted a major roadblock: Neurons are extremely sensitive to any kind of disruption, yet only by probing their innermost workings can scientists view the molecular processes that culminate in memories.
To peer deep into neurons without harming them, Einstein researchers developed a mouse model in which they fluorescently tagged all molecules of messenger RNA (mRNA) that code for beta-actin protein -- an essential structural protein found in large amounts in brain neurons and considered a key player in making memories.
mRNA is a family of RNA molecules that copy DNA's genetic information and translate it into the proteins that make life possible.
"It's noteworthy that we were able to develop this mouse without having to use an artificial gene or other interventions that might have disrupted neurons and called our findings into question," said Robert Singer, the senior author of both papers and co-chair of Einstein's department of anatomy and structural biology.
These findings suggest that neurons have developed an ingenious strategy for controlling how memory-making proteins do their job.
"This observation that neurons selectively activate protein synthesis and then shut it off fits perfectly with how we think memories are made," said Singer.