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Sunday, 10 March, 2002, 00:49 GMT
How the brain remembers
Human brain
The research looks at how the brain stores memories
Scientists have identified a key brain protein involved in retaining memories, which could help explain why some are stored away and some are not.

So far, US researchers have only carried out the work on the brain patterns of mice.

But the discovery could one day lead to the development of drugs that could treat age-related memory loss in humans.

The scientists, from Columbia University in New York, looked at a protein called CREB (cAMP response element binding protein).

It gives a better molecular understanding of how memories are stored

Dr Eric Kendel, Researcher
CREB operates in the nucleus of brain cells and helps to activate genes which it has been thought could be involved in the formation of long-term memory.

The scientists examined mice which had been genetically modified so that their brain contained an altered form of the protein which was always active.

Mental mechanism

To look at what the protein does, the researchers looked at a process called long-term potentiation (LTP).

LTP is an alteration in the communication between nerve cells in a part of the brain concerned with memory storage.

Cells were given an electrical stimulus and then tested for LTP by giving a second stimulus after some time had passed.

The research found if CREB was activated all the time, long-lasting memories were created.

More work is planned to look at mice's memory retention, in which scientists will monitor behaviour and see if they remember how to perform certain tasks.

Drugs 'years away'

Dr Eric Kandel, who led the study, told BBC News Online: "This research provides further evidence that CREB is important for the alterations in the brain in terms of memory storage.

"I don't think it has immediate therapeutic consequences, but it gives a better molecular understanding of how memories are stored."

He said it could help the development of drugs to aid memory storage, but warned such treatments were at least five to 10 years away.

Richard Morris, professor of neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, said he would like to see the results of behavioural studies into the role the protein plays.

But he added: "What I think Dr Kandel and his academic group are interested in doing, together with pharmaceutical companies, would be to see if it could formulate drugs which help the activation of CREB."

See also:

16 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
How memories are formed
24 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Scientists see memory creation
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