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Researchers identify enzyme that may turn fleeting experience into lasting memory

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. The enzyme that can help turn a one-time experience into a long-term memory has been identified in mice, researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center reported today at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. Ashok Hegde, Ph.D., of Wake Forest described the researchers' work and proposed a theory for how lasting memories are formed, a process that involves the enzyme known as protein kinase C.

"One of the hallmarks of memories that last very long is a close association with emotion," Hegde said in an interview. Hegde and colleagues studied female mice, which, with only one exposure at mating, can later recognize their partner's scent. After mating, a female mouse exposed to the scent of a strange male will not continue her pregnancy. But a female exposed to her partner's scent even a month after mating will continue her pregnancy. This suggests that the female somehow memorized her partner's scent during the process of mating.

"The good thing about this model," Hegde said, "is that it's simple and robust. The memory is unambiguous, and it forms after just one event." In Hegde's model, formation of the lasting memory in the female mouse requires that olfactory (smell) information about her partner coincide with sensory information about the mating. The information is carried by separate pathways, one involving the neurotransmitter glutamate, the other norepinephrine.

Norepinephrine, which is closely related to adrenaline, is a chemical released in the brain during emotional or exciting situations. If it does play a role in humans' being able to vividly remember details of an experience from decades ago--where people were when they heard news of President Kennedy's assassination, for example--the question for researches is how.

"There is a threshold for memory storage," Hegde said. "The brain has to decide what is important for long-term storage. We're trying to understand how nor
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Contact: Karen Richardson or Shannon Koontz
krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu
336-716-4453
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
11-Nov-2003


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