Potential Biochemical Mechanism Underlying Long-Term Memories Identified

When Dean Martin and other crooners in the 1950s and 1960s sang the lyrics to the then popular song, “Memories Are Made of This,” they described the types of romantic experiences that can generate powerful, long-lasting memories.

Thanks to the research of Associate Investigator Kausik Si, PhD, and other scientists, we now know more about how these powerful memories are created and maintained in the brain. An individual's experiences—a major source of memories—induce changes in brain cells and in the synapses, or junctions that separate the cells. Thus, even a transient experience is capable of producing an enduring physical change in the brain.

Si and his team recently discovered a possible biochemical mechanism by which the specialized brain cells known as neurons create and maintain memories that endure and do not fade away. Using a fruit fly model system, they found that the synaptic connections where memories are stored are kept strong by the transformation of the Orb2 protein from one physical state to another. The transformation changes Orb2's function so that it solidifies and strengthens the memory connections in the brain.

These research findings were reported in the December 2015 issue of the journal Cell.