But how can a single neurotransmitter, dopamine, have two seemingly opposite roles in both forming and eliminating memories? And how can these two dopamine receptors serve acquiring memory on the one hand, and forgetting on the other?
The study suggests that when a new memory is first formed, there also exists an active, dopamine-based forgetting mechanism—ongoing dopamine neuron activity—that begins to erase those memories unless some importance is attached to them, a process known as consolidation that may shield important memories from the dopamine-driven forgetting process.
The study shows that specific neurons in the brain release dopamine to two different receptors known as dDA1 and DAMB, located on what are called mushroom bodies because of their shape; these densely packed networks of neurons are vital for memory and learning in insects. The study found the dDA1 receptor is responsible for memory acquisition, while DAMB is required for forgetting.
When dopamine neurons begin the signaling process, the dDA1 receptor becomes overstimulated and begins to form memories, an essential part of memory acquisition. Once that memory is acquired, however, these same dopamine neurons continue signaling. Except this time, the signal goes through the DAMB receptor, which triggers forgetting of those recently acquired, but not yet consolidated, memories.
Jacob Berry, a graduate student in the Davis lab who led the experimentation, showed that inhibiting the dopamine signaling after learning enhanced the flies’ memory. Hyperactivating those same neurons after learning erased memory. And, a mutation in one of the receptors, dDA1, produced flies unable to learn, while a mutation in the other, DAMB, blocked forgetting.
“Savants have a high capacity for memory in some specialized areas,” he said. “But maybe it isn’t memory that gives them this capacity, maybe they have a bad forgetting mechanism. This also might be a strategy for developing drugs to promote cognition and memory—what about drugs that inhibit forgetting as cognitive enhancers?”In addition to Davis and Berry, authors of the paper “Dopamine is required for Learning and Forgetting in Drosophila” include Isaac Cervantes-Sandoval and Eric P. Nicholas, also of Scripps Research. See http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(12)00338-8
Mika Ono | EurekAlert!
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