Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Shining a light on memory


It's all about strengthened connections between neurons, NIH-funded study confirms

Using a flash of light, scientists have inactivated and then reactivated a memory in genetically engineered rats. The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, is the first cause-and-effect evidence that strengthened connections between neurons are the stuff of memory.

Scientists have switched a fear memory on and off in genetically-engineered rats -- using a flash of light. Optogenetic technology produced this first cause-and-effect evidence that memories are formed by strengthened connections between neurons.

Credit: Roberto Malinow, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego

"Our results add to mounting evidence that the brain represents a memory by forming assemblies of neurons with strengthened connections, or synapses, explained Roberto Malinow, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), a grantee of the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). "Further, the findings suggest that weakening synapses likely disassembles neuronal assemblies to inactivate a memory."

Malinow, Roger Tsien, Ph.D., a grantee of NIH's National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and other UCSD colleagues, report June 1, 2014 in the journal Nature on their findings using cutting edge optical/gene-based technology.

... more about:
»Health »LTP »NIH »NIMH »UCSD »evidence »long-term »memories »neurons »synapses »targeting

"Beyond potential applications in disorders of memory deficiency, such as dementia, this improved understanding of how memory works may hold clues to taking control of runaway emotional memories in mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder," said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

Neuroscientists have long suspected that strengthened connections between neurons – called long-term potentiation (LTP) – underlies memory formation, But proof had remained elusive, until now.

The Malinow team proved it by detecting LTP when forming a memory, removing the memory with a process known to reverse LTP, and then bringing the memory back via LTP – all by modifying the strength of synapses in a memory circuit.

To gain the precise control needed to show such a cause-and-effect relationship, Malinow's team turned to one of neuroscience's most powerful new tools: optogenetics. It adapts the same cellular machinery that allows primitive organisms like algae to be controlled by light from the sun to control specific brain circuit components instantly with a laser – even in a behaving animal.

In conventional rodent fear conditioning experiments, a tone is paired with a foot shock to induce a fear memory of the tone. If the memory is active, the animal freezes and shows reduced reward-seeking behaviors when it hears the tone. Instead of the tone, Malinow's team paired the shock with direct optogenetic stimulation, lighting up a specific group of neurons in a known auditory fear memory circuit.

Such precise targeting wasn't possible with earlier electrical stimulation techniques. "It's just a jungle in the brain – too many nerve cells coming through in any one place," explained Malinow.

By varying the pattern of optogenetic stimulation, the researchers were able to strengthen connections between neurons in the circuit by promoting LTP or weaken the connections by promoting a countervailing process called long-term depression (LTD). This made it possible to readily form a fear memory, remove it, and then bring it back.

Moreover, upon closer optogenetic probing in postmortem brains, the targeted circuit neurons showed telltale changes in sensitivity of brain chemical messenger systems. These changes confirmed the hypothesized role of strengthening and weakening of synaptic connections in the switching on-and-off of the memory.

"We have shown that the damaging products that build up in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients can weaken synapses in the same way that we weakened synapses to remove a memory," said Malinow. "So this line of research could suggest ways to intervene in the process."

"In addition to eliminating any doubt about a link between LTP/LTD with memories, this work highlights the staggering potential of precision targeting and circuit manipulation for alleviating maladaptive memories," said project officer Chiiko Asanuma,Ph.D., of the NIMH Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science.

"This work provides a nice demonstration of how the field of neuroscience is being transformed by the types of technologies that are at the heart of President Obama's BRAIN Initiative," said Edmund Talley, Ph.D., program director at the NINDS.

Jules Asher | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Health LTP NIH NIMH UCSD evidence long-term memories neurons synapses targeting

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: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

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...

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

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>