Scientists have found a group of proteins that they claim are essential for the formation of long-term memories in humans.
The Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) in Florida studied a family of proteins called Wnts that are responsible for memories in humans.
These proteins send signals from the outside to inner part of a cell, inducing a cellular response crucial for many aspects of embryonic development, including stem cell differentiation and normal functioning of the adult brain.
“By removing the function of three proteins in the Wnt signalling pathway, we produced a deficit in long-term but not short-term memory,” said Ron Davis, chair of the TSRI Department of Neuroscience.
“The pathway is clearly part of the conversion of short-term memory to the long-term stable form, which occurs through changes in gene expression,” Davis said.
The scientists carried study on Drosophila, the common fruit fly – a widely used doppelganger for human memory studies, to probe the role of Wnt.
Scientists inactivated the expression of several Wnt signalling proteins in the mushroom bodies of adult flies – part of the fly brain that plays a role in learning and memory.
According to the researchers, the resulting memory disruption suggests that Wnt signalling participates actively in the formation of long-term memory, rather than having some general, non-specific effect on behaviour.
“What is interesting is that the molecular mechanisms of adult memory use the same processes that guide the early development of the organism, except that they are repurposed for memory formation,” Davis said.
“One difference, however, is that during early development the signals are intrinsic, while in adults they require an outside stimulus to create a memory,” he said.
The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.