Some people have great memories - almost like they are looking at a photograph. What is the secret? Will it be possible to change the amount of information the brain can store?
Maybe. Researchers have identified a molecule that puts the brakes on brain processing. When the brake is removed, brain function and memory recall is improved.
FXR1P: a controller of certain forms of memory
"Previous research has shown that production of new molecules is necessary for storing memories in the brain; if you block the production of these molecules, new memory formation does not take place," says McGill University neuroscientist Dr. Keith Murai. "Our findings show that the brain has a key protein that limits the production of molecules necessary for memory formation. When this brake-protein is suppressed, the brain is able to store more information."
Murai and colleagues used a mouse model to study how changes in brain cell connections produce new memories. They demonstrated that a protein, FXR1P (Fragile X Related Protein 1), was responsible for suppressing the production of molecules required for building new memories.
When FXR1P was selectively removed from certain parts of the brain, these new molecules were produced that strengthened connections between brain cells and this correlated with improved memory and recall in the mice.
"The role of FXR1P was a surprising result," says Dr. Murai who is part of the McGill Centre for Research in Neuroscience. "Previous to our work, no-one had identified a role for this regulator in the brain. Our findings have provided fundamental knowledge about how the brain processes information. We've identified a new pathway that directly regulates how information is handled and this could have relevance for understanding and treating brain diseases."
"Future research in this area could be very interesting," he adds. "If we can identify compounds that control the braking potential of FXR1P, we may be able to alter the amount of brain activity or plasticity. For example, in autism, one may want to decrease certain brain activity and in Alzheimer's disease, we may want to enhance the activity. By manipulating FXR1P, we may eventually be able to adjust memory formation and retrieval, thus improving the quality of life of people suffering from brain diseases."