Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New insights into the molecular basis of memory

17.12.2015

Scientists from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Göttingen and Munich have shed new light on the molecular basis of memory. Their study confirms that the formation of memories is accompanied by an altered activity of specific genes. In addition, they found an unprecedented amount of evidence that supports the hypothesis that chemical labels on the backbone of the DNA (so-called DNA methylation) may be the molecular basis of long-term memory. These findings are reported in „Nature Neuroscience“.

The brain still harbours many unknowns. Basically, it is assumed that it stores experiences by altering the connections between brain cells.


A new DZNE study supports the hypothesis that memories are encoded with the help of chemical labels on the DNA. The image shows a computer model of the DNA. Source: pixabay

This ability to adapt – which is also called “plasticity” – provides the basis for memory and learning, which is the ability to draw conclusions from memories. On a molecular scale these changes are mediated by modifications of expression of specific genes that as required strengthen or weaken the connections between the brain cells.

In the current study, a research team led by Dr. Stefan Bonn and Prof. André Fischer from Göttingen, joined forces with colleagues from the DZNE’s Munich site, to examine how the activity of such genes is regulated.

The scientists stimulated long-term memory in mice, by training the animals to recognise a specific test environment. Based on tissue samples, the researchers were able to discern to what extent this learning task triggered changes in the activity of the genes in the mice’s brain cells. Their focus was directed on so-called epigenetic modifications. These modifications involve the DNA and DNA associated proteins.

Epigenetic modifications

“The cell makes use of various mechanisms in order to turn genes on or off, without altering the DNA sequence itself. It’s called ‘epigenetics’,” explains Dr. Magali Hennion, a staff member of the research group of Stefan Bonn.

In principle, gene regulation can happen through methylation, whereby the backbone of the DNA is chemically labeled at specific sites. Changes in the proteins called histones that are packaging the DNA may also occur.

Hennion: “Research on epigenetic changes that are related to memory processes is still at an early stage. We look at such features, not only for the purpose of a better understanding of how memory works. We also look for potential targets for drugs that may counteract memory decline. Ultimately, our research is about therapies against Alzheimer’s and similar brain diseases.“

A code for memory contents?

In the current study the researchers found modifications, both of the histones as well as of the methylation of the DNA. However, histone modifications had little effect on the activity of genes involved in neuroplasticity. Furthermore, Bonn and his colleagues not only discovered epigenetic modifications in nerve cells, but also in non-neuronal cells of the brain.

„The relevance of non-neuronal cells for memory, is an interesting topic that we will continue to pursue“, says André Fischer, site speaker for the DZNE in Göttingen and professor at the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG).

„Furthermore, our observations suggest that neuroplasticity is to a large extent regulated by DNA methylation. Although this is not a new hypothesis, our study provides an unprecedented amount of supporting evidence for this. Thus, methylation may indeed be an important molecular constituent of long-term memory. In such a case, methylation could be a sort of code for memory content and a potential target for therapies against Alzheimer’s disease. This is an aspect that we specifically want to focus on, in further studies.“

Original publication
„DNA methylation changes in plasticity genes accompany the formation and maintenance of memory“, Rashi Halder, Magali Hennion, Ramon O. Vidal, Orr Shomroni, Raza-Ur Rahman, Ashish Rajput, Tonatiuh Pena Centeno, Frauke van Bebber, Vincenzo Capece, Julio C. Garcia Vizcaino, Anna-Lena Schuetz, Susanne Burkhardt, Eva Benito, Magdalena Navarro Sala, Sanaz Bahari Javan, Christian Haass, Bettina Schmid, Andre Fischer, Stefan Bonn, Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4194

The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) investigates the causes of diseases of the nervous system and develops strategies for prevention, treatment and care. It is an institution within the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres with nine sites across Germany (Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Göttingen, Magdeburg, Munich, Rostock/Greifswald, Tübingen and Witten). The DZNE cooperates closely with universities, their clinics and other research facilities.

Web: www.dzne.de/en  | Twitter: @dzne_en | Facebook: www.dzne.de/facebook 

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.dzne.de/en/about-us/public-relations/meldungen/2015/press-release-no-...

Dr. Marcus Neitzert | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How algae and carbon fibers could sustainably reduce the athmospheric carbon dioxide concentration
14.11.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht NIH scientists illuminate causes of hepatitis b virus-associated acute liver failure
14.11.2018 | NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

NIH scientists illuminate causes of hepatitis b virus-associated acute liver failure

14.11.2018 | Life Sciences

The unintended consequences of dams and reservoirs

14.11.2018 | Earth Sciences

NIH scientists combine technologies to view the retina in unprecedented detail

14.11.2018 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>