Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Linking insulin to learning

27.02.2013
Important insights in research with worms

Recent work by Harvard researchers demonstrates how the signaling pathway of insulin and insulinlike peptides plays a critical role in helping to regulate learning and memory.

The research, led by Yun Zhang, associate professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, is described in a Feb. 6 paper in Neuron.

“People think of insulin and diabetes, but many metabolic syndromes are associated with some types of cognitive defects and behavioral disorders, like depression or dementia,” Zhang said. “That suggests that insulin and insulinlike peptides may play an important role in neural function, but it’s been very difficult to nail down the underlying mechanism, because these peptides do not have to function through synapses that connect different neurons in the brain.”

To get at that mechanism, Zhang and colleagues turned to an organism whose genome and nervous system are well described and highly accessible by genetics: C. elegans.
Using genetic tools, researchers altered the transparent worms by removing their ability to create individual insulinlike compounds. These new “mutant” worms were then tested to see whether they would learn to avoid eating a particular type of bacteria that is known to infect the worms. Tests showed that although some worms did learn to steer clear of the bacteria, others didn’t — suggesting that removing a specific insulinlike compound halted the worms’ ability to learn.

Researchers were surprised to find, however, that it wasn’t just removing the molecules that could make the animals lose the ability to learn — some peptides were found to inhibit learning.

“We hadn’t predicted that we would find both positive and negative regulators from these peptides,” Zhang said. “Why does the animal need this bidirectional regulation of learning? One possibility is that learning depends on context. There are certain things you want to learn — for example, the worms in these experiments wanted to learn that they shouldn’t eat this type of infectious bacteria. That’s a positive regulation of the learning. But if they needed to eat, even if it is a bad food, to survive, they would need a way to suppress this type of learning.”

Even more surprising for Zhang and her colleagues was evidence that the various insulinlike molecules could regulate each other.

“Many animals, including humans, have multiple insulinlike molecules, and it appears that these molecules can act like a network,” she said. “Each of them may play a slightly different role in the nervous system, and they function together to coordinate the signaling related to learning and memory. By changing the way the molecules interact, the brain can fine-tune learning in a host of different ways.”

Going forward, Zhang said, she hopes to characterize more of the insulinlike peptides as a way of better understanding how the various molecules interact, and how they act on the neural circuits for learning and memory.

Understanding how such pathways work could one day help in the development of treatment for a host of cognitive disorders, including dementia.

“The signaling pathways for insulin and insulinlike peptides are highly conserved in mammals, including humans,” Zhang said. “There is even some preliminary evidence that insulin treatment, in some cases, can improve cognitive function. That’s one reason we believe that if we understand this mechanism, it will help us better understand how insulin pathways are working in the human brain.”

Peter Reuell | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.harvard.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular libraries for organic light-emitting diodes
24.04.2017 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular libraries for organic light-emitting diodes

24.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Research sheds new light on forces that threaten sensitive coastlines

24.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

24.04.2017 | Machine Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>