Published: Wed, May 16, 2018
Health Care | By Edgar Pierce

UCLA biologists 'transfer' a memory

UCLA biologists 'transfer' a memory

"It's like we carried the memory", said Gladman and argued that memories are not stored in synapses of neurons (each neuron has several thousand synapses), as is widely believed, but in the nucleus of neurons.

In an experiment to test the idea, Glanzman implanted wires into the tails of California sea hares, or Aplysia californica, and gave them a series of electric shocks. After these shocks, the snail's defensive reflex became more pronounced. When tapping the snails, the ones in shock training contracted their bodies for nearly 50 seconds to defend themselves.

When Glanzman and his team later physically tapped these slugs on their tails, the creatures contracted for an average of 50 seconds.

The next step was to extract RNA from the snails' nervous systems, but only from those that had received the shocks.

The non-sensitized snails injected with the RNA behaved as if they received the shock themselves in their tail and displayed a defensive contraction for 40 seconds.

Tsai, who recently co-authored a major review on memory formation, called Glanzman's study "impressive and interesting" and said a number of studies support the notion that epigenetic mechanisms play some role in memory formation, which is likely a complex and multifaceted process.

As expected, the control group of snails did not display the lengthy contraction. Those that had received the shock group's RNA responded nearly exactly like the shock group: They recoiled for about 40 seconds. They injected this RNA into snails that had not been shocked.

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To bolster its findings, the team also added RNA from the shocked snails to Aplysia sensory neurons in a Petri dish.

The world's first memory transplant was just achieved in marine snails. They have been shown to be involved in long-term memory in snails, mice and rats, through their ability to influence chemical tags on DNA.

The study suggests some memories may be stored in genetic code, at least in animals, Live Science said.

Scientists know more about the cell biology of this simple form of learning in this animal than any other form of learning in any other organism, Glanzman said.

When asked if this process would be conducive to the transplant of memories laid down through life experiences, Prof Glanzman was uncertain, but he expressed optimism that the greater understanding of memory storage would lead to a greater opportunity to explore different aspects of memory.

Glanzman predicts that in the future we could use our knowledge of RNA to actually awaken and restore memories that have been lost in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Co-authors are Alexis Bédécarrats, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar who worked in Glanzman's laboratory; and Shanping Chen, Kaycey Pearce and Diancai Cai, research associates in Glanzman's laboratory.

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