Magazine article Science News

New Memory Manager: DNA Silencer Also Controls Memory Formation

Magazine article Science News

New Memory Manager: DNA Silencer Also Controls Memory Formation

Article excerpt

A chemical process that switches genes off during embryonic development plays a surprising role in memory formation in adult rats, new research shows. It's the first time that scientists have seen this switching mechanism regulate normal adult cells.

The discovery adds a new layer to the control of gene activity in nerve cells, and it raises the possibility that this mechanism, called methylation, influences gene activity in other cell types as well. "This may be a more routinely used mechanism for triggering cell function," says lead researcher J. David Sweatt of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

A developing embryo's cells become heart, liver, or another cell type by shutting down DNA that doesn't relate to the cells' eventual functions. Small molecules called methyl groups attach to a region of DNA, causing it to roll up into a tight bundle that can't be transcribed into proteins. This leaves operable only genes that are relevant to the cell's specific function.

Scientists had generally assumed that once the cells became specialized, methylation had finished its job. Aside from remethylating new copies of DNA during cell division, active methylation in adult cells is normally a sign of diseases such as schizophrenia or cancer.

Sweatt and his colleagues taught rats to fear a certain environment by giving them mild electric shocks. When placed in the same environment a day later, the rats normally froze in apparent fear, demonstrating that they had acquired long-term memories. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.