The details of memory formation are still largely unknown. It has, however, been established that the two kinds of memory – long term and short term – use different mechanisms. When short-term memory is formed, certain proteins in the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain are transiently modified.
To find out how these molecules might function in long-term memory, Sebastian Krüttner, a doctoral student with Krystyna Keleman at the IMP, devoted the past five years to this question. He identified two very similar CPEB proteins in flies, Orb2A and Orb2B, as the key molecules. While both isoforms are required for the formation of long-term memory, they function by distinct mechanisms in this process.
After conducting a large number of genetic, biochemical and behavioral experiments, the IMP scientists now propose the following model for long-term memory formation: a learning experience – as in the courtship conditioning procedure – leads to the activation of Orb2A in certain synapses only. In these synapses, Orb2A recruits Orb2B into complexes, which in turn alter protein synthesis locally only in these activated synapses, thereby forming stable memories.This model, which is described in the current issue of the journal Neuron, is somewhat unconventional. The fact that two very similar molecules have such different functions was unexpected. Even more surprising is the role of Orb2A, which does not require its protein binding domain – a region previously thought to be essential for CPEB proteins.
Dr. Heidemarie Hurtl | idw
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