Understanding Long-Term Memory Pathways
July 2, 2013

Understanding Long-Term Memory Pathways

There have been many different theories about how memory is retained and how we take short-term memories and make them into long-term memories. There have been years of research into cognitive science and how we can better retain information or maybe event prevent the retention of information in some cases.

Research has shown that emotions and our environment are able to help solidify memories within our mind, but we don’t fully understand why this happens or even how this happens at all. Dr. Steve Finkbeiner and his team at the Gladstone Institutes have found the pathway that leads to long-term memories. This in itself is a great discovery because neuroscientists haven’t been able to direct memory into a single pathway, but only to sections of the brain that contribute to the creation of memories.

Neuroscientists at Gladstone Institutes have discovered a new mechanism within the brain called homeostatic scaling. What this process does is it is allows the connections between synapses and creates a stronger connection between neurons, but doesn’t overexcite the neurons in this process. When a neuron becomes overly excited, it tends to lead to seizures. Researches are still unsure how these neurons are able to create these stronger connections without overexciting, but they think it may come from a protein called Arc. It has been known for a while that Arc plays a crucial role in solidifying long term memories, but they weren’t totally sure what aspects of forming long term memories the protein really had in the process.

It is exactly this information that intrigued Dr. Finkbeiner and his team. During their research, they found that this Arc protein is much more crucial to the role of long term memory than previously thought. They found that when long term memories were being created in mice, the Arc protein started to build up within the synapse and when the process ended, the Arc protein quickly receded into the nucleus of the synaptic knob. They found that it was actually the Arc protein that helps control the whole process of creating long term memories.

This research is leading into several other parts of research, as well. The Arc protein has shown some insight into Alzheimer’s disease. They have found that Arc is essential to homeostatic scaling and, as Alzheimer’s progresses, the scaling becomes depleted, which might be what causes memory loss within patients that have progressed Alzheimer’s.

Arc may also play a small role in Autism and Fragile X syndrome. They have found that certain neurons within the brain of those that are Autistic are destroyed and therefore some of the neurons that focus on this Arc protein are as well.

This new discovery will lead to great research and help neuroscientists start to fully understand how we as humans can retain information better than before. This information could help us solidify the information we already know. It may even help prevent shocking memories for those that have post-traumatic stress disorder, where the reemergence of memories cause anxiety within their daily lives.

Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

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