The study conducted by a team of scientists led by Alexei Morozov at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, has discovered a pathway by which the brain controls a molecule critical to forming long-term memories and connected with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
The mechanism - a protein called Rap1 - controls L-type calcium channels, which participate in the formation of long-term memories.
In the experiment, Morozov and colleagues knocked out the gene responsible for coding the enzyme Rap1, which he suspected played a role in activating L-type calcium channels.
The researchers then used live imaging techniques to monitor the release of neurotransmitters and electron microscopy to visualize L-type channels at synapses.
They discovered that, without Rap1, the L-type calcium channels were more active and more abundant at synapses all the time, increasing the release of neurotransmitters.
The results showed that Rap1 is responsible for suppressing L-type calcium channels, allowing them to activate only at the proper moments, possibly during long-term memory formation.