In a study on Drosophila (a type of fruit fly), researchers at University of Missouri have found a memory development mechanism that may help people suffering from Parkinson's disease and depression.
Researchers led by Troy Zars, MU assistant professor of biological science in the College of Arts and Science, found that it is possible to isolate and test key genes related to memory by manipulating levels of certain compounds linked with brain "circuitry".
"The implication for human health is that it could influence our understanding of the cognitive decline associated with Parkinson's disease and depression in humans," said Zars.
It is well-known that animals have a system that can match the quality of a memory with the significance of the memory. And in case the event is significant, the memory and detail surrounding it is much stronger, lasts longer and is more easily recalled in comparison to more insignificant or common events.
The study addresses the problem in understanding the mechanism by which this phenomenon occurs.
"We have developed a strategy to address how this matching occurs, so we can 'turn that crank' over and over again. It allows us to answer the questions, 'What gene is it" How does it function" How does it interact with other proteins"' We can find brand-new, completely unexpected things," said Zars.
On of the major goals of neuroscience is to discover and study memory-forming structures within a brain.
According to Zars, he works with Drosophila as they are a well-established genetic model, have a relatively less complex brain than the mouse or human (250,000 neurons versus 100 billion neurons), and have a broad repertoire of behaviours.
For the study, the researchers tested memory in the flies by using a specialized chamber in which single flies were allowed to wander freely. The chamber was outfitted with heating elements. When the fly moved to a particular side, the whole chamber heated quickly to an uncomfortable temperature.
This made the flies eventually learn, or remember, to avoid that half if brain "circuitry" is functioning properly. However, a mutation in certain flies altered the levels of serotonin and dopamine, which resulted in lower memory scores.
"This research is important because by studying a simple brain it will help us ultimately understand complex neural systems," said Zars.
The study was published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.