Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Lifelong Memories Linked to Stable Nerve Connections

Our ability to learn new information and adapt to changes in our daily environment, as well as to retain lifelong memories, appears to lie in the minute junctions where nerve cells communicate, according to a new study by NYU Langone Medicine Center researchers. The study is published online this week in the journal Nature.

The scientists, led by Wen-Biao Gan, PhD, associate professor of physiology and neuroscience at NYU School of Medicine, discovered that a delicate balancing act occurs in the brain where neuronal connections are continually being formed, eliminated, and maintained. This feat allows the brain to integrate new information without jeopardizing already established memories, the new study suggests.

Using a powerful optical imaging technique called two-photon microscopy, Dr. Gan and colleagues at The Helen and Martin Kimmel Center for Biology and Medicine at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, viewed the precise changes that take place at synapses, the junctions where nerve cells communicate, in the wake of learning a new task or being exposed to a novel situation. New knowledge, explains Dr. Gan, prompts alterations in the dendritic spines, the knobby protrusions along the branching ends of nerve cells. With learning, spines are gained and others lost.

“We’ve known for a long time that the brain remodels after learning,” says Dr. Gan “Our studies show that the brain does this in two ways: by adding a tiny fraction of new connections to the brain’s neural circuitry and eliminating old ones.”

Dr. Gan and his associates tracked changes in the brains of mice before and after experiencing a new stimulus (a string of beads hung at different places along the cage) or learning a new task (running on an accelerated spinning wheel). To open a window to the brain, the team shaved away the skull over the animals’ cortex in which the nerve dendrites were lit up by fluorescent proteins. Then, using a two-photon microscope, they snapped photos of the dendrites after the animals learned to stay on the running wheel or encountered the newly positioned beads. The team began photographing the mice when they were a month old and followed them through adulthood.

When the team compared the photos across the months, they observed new spines emerging in response to the beads’ placement or learning to run on the wheel. They saw, too, that as the mice became improved at spinning the wheel, a minute fraction of new spines continued to persist. The researchers also noted that at the same time as these new and lasting spines were created, a corresponding number of older spines that had been formed early in the animals’ development before the experiment began, disappeared.

Despite the rise and fall of dendritic spines, the animals’ brain circuitry remained overwhelmingly secure. A mouse neuron can carry ten thousand spines on its dendrites. Over months, about 100 spines were either gained or lost on each nerve cell after exposure to new experience while the majority of existing spines are maintained.

The study gives a clue as to how it is possible for humans, who have hundreds of thousands of spines on one neuron, to live each day, constantly experiencing and learning new things, without losing existing memories. “The brain is a dynamic and stable organ,” says Dr. Gan.

The authors of the new study are Dr. Gan and two postdoctoral fellows in his laboratory, Dr. Guang Yang and Dr. Feng Pan.

The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, a Dart Foundation Fellowship and an Ellison/AFAR Postdoctoral fellowship.

About NYU Langone Medical Center
NYU Langone Medical Center is one of the nation's premier centers of excellence in healthcare, biomedical research, and medical education. For over 168 years, NYU physicians and researchers have made countless contributions to the practice and science of health care. Today the Medical Center consists of NYU School of Medicine, including the Smilow Research Center, the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, and the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences; the three hospitals of NYU Hospitals Center, Tisch Hospital, a 705-bed acute-care general hospital, Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, the first and largest facility of its kind, and NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, a leader in musculoskeletal care; and such major programs as the NYU Cancer Institute, the NYU Child Study Center, and the Hassenfeld Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Dorie Klissas | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>