RNA Moves a Memory From One Snail to Another

WIKIMEDIA GENNY ANDERSON

WIKIMEDIA GENNY ANDERSON

Once the snail had established an involuntary defensive reflex, the team extracted its ribonucleic acid (RNA). Several years ago, though, he and his colleagues began replicating memory-erasing research done in rodents in California sea hares (Aplysia californica), a type of marine snail also called a sea slug.

The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease.

The memory from one sea hare was transferred to another via injections. These are commonly used as animal models for neuroscience because the cellular and molecular processes at work are relatively similar to humans, but they have a far more manageable number of neurons - about 20,000, compared to our 100 billion. The team found that the snail synapses built to "store" a memory weren't necessarily the synapses that were removed from the neural circuits in the memory-erasing experiments. Soon after, the RNA from the subject was extracted and injected into another sea snail to see what happened. Glanzman likens the reaction to being jumpy in the moments after an quake: the memory of the event induces an involuntary reflex to any loud noise.

You may not carry your house on your back or release sulphuric acid, but you've got a lot more in common with a sea snail than you may think.

According to the BBC, the team observed that sensitized snails had a defensive contraction of up to 50 seconds, whereas the specimens that weren't familiar with the electric shock only contracted for about a second. Curiously, the specialists found, including RNA from the snails that had been given stuns likewise created expanded volatility in tactile neurons in a Petri dish; it didn't do as such in engine neurons. Unsurprisingly, this control group showed no signs of sensitization.


As it turned out, the RNA samples retained the memory of the electric shock, causing the untrained snails to exhibit a defense mechanism that lasted nearly as long as that of the donor snails. RNA from shocked snails also enhanced a subset of synapses between sensory and motor neurons in vitro, suggesting it was indeed the RNA that transported the memory, Glanzman explains. In the 1940s, Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb proposed memories are made in the connections between neurons, called synapses, and stored as those connections grow stronger and more abundant. He and his colleagues published research in the journal eLife in 2014 indicating that lost memories can be restored.

Much more research awaits, but for now, these results suggest that at least some kinds of memory could be modified using RNA, and it brings researcher closer to an overall understanding of the physical traces of memory in the nervous system.

This article has been republished from materials provided by UCLA.

Reference: Bédécarrats, A., Chen, S., Pearce, K., Cai, D., & Glanzman, D.

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