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 Biochemical 'fingerprints' reveal diabetes progression
22.08.2017 | Umea University

nachricht When fish swim in the holodeck
22.08.2017 | University of Vienna

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Molecular volume control

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

When fish swim in the holodeck

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Biochemical 'fingerprints' reveal diabetes progression

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>