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Neuroscientists identify how trauma triggers long-lasting memories in the brain

eir amygdala chemically stimulated in order to determine what role it played in forming a memory of the experience.

When they placed the rats that received both the mild foot-shock and the amygdala stimulation back in the well-lit compartment, the researchers found the rats tended to remain there, demonstrating a memory for the foot shock they had received in the dark compartment. These rats, the researchers found, also showed an increase in the amount of the Arc protein in the hippocampus. On the other hand, rats that received only the mild foot-shock and no amygdala stimulation showed no increase in Arc protein. When placed in the well-lit compartment, they tended to enter the dark compartment, suggesting they didn't remember the foot shock.

"In a separate experiment, we chemically inactivated the amygdala in rats very soon after they received a strong foot-shock," McIntyre said. "We found the increase in Arc was reduced and these rats showed poor memory for the foot shock despite its high intensity. This also shows that the amygdala is involved in forming a long-term memory."

The brain is extremely dynamic, McIntyre explained, with some genes in the brain, called "immediate early genes," changing after every experience. "We know the level of the immediate early gene that makes the Arc protein increases in the brain, simply in response to an exposure to a new environment," she said. "Our findings show that this gene makes more Arc protein in the hippocampus only if the experience is emotionally arousing or important enough to activate the amygdala and to be remembered days later."

The researchers were surprised to find no change in the gene that produced the Arc protein when the rat's amygdala was stimulated. "We weren't expecting the gene to be uncoupled from the Arc protein," McIntyre said. "We thought an activation of the amygdala would create more gene activation in the hippocampus. But we saw the same amount of the gene in th
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Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
iqbal@uci.edu
949-824-3969
University of California - Irvine
26-Jul-2005


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