Researchers from Max Plank Institute of Developmental Biology have uncovered some of the molecular mysteries associated with synaptic connections between the neurons, that represent the structural and functional unit of the brain.
In simple terms, the junction between two neurons is referred to as a synapse. It serves as a gateway of communication between the same. Storage and transmission of information occurs through these specialized contact sites. This synaptic connection is of great importance in the process of learning and remembering what has been learnt. These is a parallel change in the structural and functional characteristics of the synaptic junctions during the learning process. The exact molecular mechanism behind this modification has been largely unknown until now.
Michael Kiebler and his colleagues have now identified a protein called, Staufen2, found to play a significant role in the mainatenance of synaptic junctions. A cell devoid of this protein would lose a significant proportion of the synapses. Associated impairment in other contact sites and the signalling mechanism have also been identified.
The protein is known to be invloved in the transport of mRNAs to to specific locations inside a cell. This has been found to largely dependent on the recognition of the mRNA by special RNA binding proteins and the subsequent transport to synaptic junctions. As any defect in this process (due to missing Staufen2 protein) has been found to result in structural and functional inhibition of the synapse, it is logical to assume that the protein also plays a major role in the process of learning and memory retention.
This finding has obviously led to a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind the ability of the brain to learn and remember. If in the future, such mechanisms can be manipulated, it could lead to a revolution. Somebody who has a poor learning capacity can be substituted with an 'ideal brain'. This could go a long way in the treatment of disorders related to learning and memory function.