Laboratory study supports the hypothesis that memories are encoded with the help of chemical labels on the DNA
Göttingen, December 17th, 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. 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.
New insights into the molecular basis of memory