Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A molecular switch for memory and addiction

Scientists from Germany, UK and Italy identify a molecular switch that leads to a sustained increase of calcium in nerve cells and plays a crucial role in the formation of memory and addictive behaviors.

Learning and memory formation are based on the creation of new connections between neurons in the brain. Also, behaviors such as nicotine addiction manifest themselves in long-term changes of neuronal connectivity and can – at least in this respect – be viewed as a form of learning.

A team around Pierluigi Nicotera, scientific director of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and collaborating laboratories at the MRC, UK and University of Modena, Italy have now discovered a molecular switch that plays a crucial role in establishing addictive behavior and memory processes. These results may contribute to new strategies for preventing memory loss or treating addictive behavior. The study is published online in EMBO Journal on November 26th.

Neuronal signals are passed from one nerve cell to the next in form of chemical compounds called neurotransmitters. This signal transmission is a first step and prerequisite for any learning process in the brain. It induces a sequence of events in the downstream cell that eventually lead to changes in neuronal connectivity and thus to memory consolidation. Also nicotine or cocaine can trigger the rearrangement of brain connections in an equivalent manner.

A first step in the induction of neuronal plasticity – the formation of new connections in the brain – involves calcium. As a response to neurotransmitters, nicotine or cocaine, calcium increases at the site of neuronal connection, the synapse. In a second step, this calcium increase will induce gene expression – the synthesis of proteins that will lead to new or reinforced synaptic connectivity. It has been generally accepted that the increase of calcium is only part of the first step in this process and does not depend on gene expression. Pierluigi Nicotera and his colleagues now challenge this idea. Their study shows that the expression of genes involved in calcium signaling is required to induce plasticity in nerve cells after repeated stimulation with nicotine or cocaine.

The scientists found that nicotine administration to mice induces the expression of a gene called type 2 ryanodine receptor (RyR2). RyR2 protein is involved in releasing calcium from a cell internal calcium store, the endoplasmic reticulum, thus leading to a long-lasting reinforcement of calcium signaling in a self-sustained manner. This sustained calcium-increase then leads to neuronal plasticity. Specifically, RyR2 is expressed in a number of brain areas associated with cognition and addiction as the cortex and ventral midbrain, suggesting that RyR2 induction plays a pivotal role in these processes. This idea was confirmed in an additional experiment, in which the authors of the study demonstrate that a reduction of RyR2-activation in living animals abolishes behavior associated with learning, memory and addiction. This shows that RyR2 is absolutely required to develop long-term changes in the brain that lead to addiction.

These results are a major step forwards in understanding the molecular processes underlying memory and addiction. On the long run, the scientists hope that these insights will contribute to the development of therapies for the treatment of addictive disorders or strategies to counteract memory loss in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.

Original publication:
Elena Ziviani, Giordano Lippi, Daniele Bano, Eliana Munarriz, Stefania Guiducci, Michele Zoli, Kenneth W Young and Pierluigi Nicotera. Ryanodine receptor-2 upregulation and nicotine-mediated plasticity. EMBO Journal, published online on 26th November 2010.

doi: EMBOJ.2010.279

Prof. Pierluigi Nicotera
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Ludwig-Erhard-Allee 2
53175 Bonn, Germany
Phone: + 49 228 43302-100
Dr. Katrin Weigmann
German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)
Press and Public Relations
Phone: +49 228 43302 -263
Mobile: +49 172 2838930

Daniel Bayer | idw
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>