Deans' Stroke Musing
What is your doctor doing to unstick your synapses? Is this your memory problem rather than the stroke? - ‘Sticky Synapses’ Can Impair New Memories by Holding on to Old Ones
University of British Columbia researchers have discovered that so-called “sticky synapses” in the brain can impair new learning by excessively hard-wiring old memories and inhibiting our ability to adapt to our changing environment.
|Shernaz Bamji and Fergil Mills|
“We tend to think that strong retention of memories is always a good thing,” says Fergil Mills, UBC PhD candidate and the study’s first author. “But our study shows that cognitive flexibility involves actively weakening old memory traces. In certain situations, you have to be able to ‘forget’ to learn.”
The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that mice with excessive beta-catenin – a protein that is part of the “molecular glue” that holds synapses together – can learn a task just as well as normal mice, but lacked the mental dexterity to adapt if the task was altered.
“Now, we see that changes in beta-catenin levels can dramatically affect learning and memory, and may indeed play a role in the cognitive deficits associated with these diseases,” she adds. “This opens up many exciting new avenues for research into these diseases and potential therapeutic approaches.”
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