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Proteins anchor memories in our brain

A University of Utah study suggests that memories are held in our brains because certain proteins serve as anchors, holding other proteins in place to strengthen synapses, which are connections between nerve cells.

"The essential idea is that synapses are in a constant state of flux, so how can they be the seat of memories that can last a lifetime?" says mathematics Professor Paul Bressloff, a member of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah. "Part of the answer is that there are anchors inside the synapse that keep proteins in place, and these proteins help determine how strong a synapse is, which in turn contributes to forming and retaining memories."

The research is relevant not only to how memory and learning work, but to Alzheimer's disease, which is believed to involve, at least in part, a breakdown in the normal movement of proteins within synapses.

The study will be published Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006, in The Journal of Neuroscience. Bressloff conducted the research with Berton Earnshaw, a doctoral student in mathematics. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Bressloff says the big debate about consciousness is, "Can it be explained simply in terms of a bunch of nerve impulses in the brain? In my opinion, the answer has to be yes" an answer reinforced by his findings.

"Memories, behavior, feelings all are determined by patterns of nerve impulses in the brain," he adds. "If you change the pattern of nerve impulses, then that changes the memories, behavior and feelings. What determines that pattern of nerve impulses is a mixture of stimuli we are receiving from the outside world and the strength of connections between nerve cells."

"Our knowledge and memories are determined by these connections in the brain. Who we are is determined by the strength of connections between neurons in the brain."

The Anatomy of Memory and Learning

A synapse is the
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21-Nov-2006


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