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Pavlov's flies: Researchers identify fruit fly memory mutants

By teaching fruit flies to avoid an odor and isolating mutant flies that can't remember their lessons, researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York have identified dozens of genes required for long-term memory.

In the same study, using DNA chip technology, the scientists identified another large group of candidate memory genes that are either switched on or off in the fly brain during memory formation.

The study is significant in part because many of the fruit fly genes it uncovered have counterparts in humans. Because these genes might be involved in human learning and memory, they may be important for understanding human memory deficit disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, the genes are potential targets for the development of therapies to treat such disorders. The study (available on request) appears in the February 18 issue of Current Biology (illustrations also available on request).

Interestingly, an overlapping set of seven candidate memory genes appeared in both the behavioral screen and the DNA chip analysis. Additional experiments confirmed that when genes identified by the DNA chip approach are mutated or switched off in flies, the resulting flies fail to form long-term memories.

The study, by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory neuroscientists Tim Tully and Josh Dubnau, reveals new roles for nearly 100 genes in memory, as well as a role in memory for a specific subset of genes that is believed to act to restrict protein production to particular regions within brain neurons.

The behavioral screen for memory mutants uncovered 60 genes, and the DNA chip analysis yielded 42 genes. Considering the seven genes that appeared in both groups, the study identified a total of some 92 unique genes likely to function in learning and memory at some level.

"The brain of the fly works very much like the brain of other animals, including humans. Flies are capable of learning just like Pavlov's Dogs,"
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Contact: Peter Sherwood
sherwood@cshl.edu
516-367-6947
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
17-Feb-2003


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