The fewer synapses in the brain, the clearer our thoughts


10/12/2010

Researchers at Yale University have recently discovered a single molecule that is able to not only connect brain cells, but also affects the way we study the information and think. The information reported in the December issue of the journal Neuron, may help researchers in search of techniques to improve memory and can lead to the development of new methods of treatment and correction of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Connections between brain cells over which the nerve impulses, called synapses play an important role in regulating the process of learning, memory and thought process. Abnormalities in the structure and function of synapses lead to mental retardation and autism. For example, lost synapses in the brain and reduces elderly patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

However, the mechanisms that organize synapses in the living brain, remain a mystery. Scientists at Yale University have identified one important piece of the puzzle: a molecule that passes through the synaptic connections, has been named SynCAM 1.

"We assumed that this molecule could create new synapses in the developing brain, but were surprised that it also affects the maintenance and function of these structures," - said Thomas Bider, a professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, as well as the main author of the analysis. "We can now determine how these molecules are related to the ability of the brain to perform certain functions."

The research team focused its attention on SynCAM 1 adhesion molecule that helps keep the synaptic junctions together. They found that when the molecule SynCAM 1 gene was activated in mice, more synaptic connections formed. In mice, no molecules to form fewer synapses.

When we learn new information, we can sformirovyvaetsya new synapses. Nevertheless, the strength of synaptic connections also changes during the learning process based on the amount of received stimuli - Value, which scientists have described as "plasticity". With a team of scientists in Germany under the direction of Valentin Shteyna, the researchers were amazed discovery that SynCAM 1 controls an important form of synaptic plasticity.

Suddenly, Bider and his colleagues also found that mice with a lot of SynCAM 1 is not capable of learning, whereas mice with a missing number of molecules SynCAM 1, and therefore with a lower amount of synapses, the more prone to learning. Obviously, the excess linker molecules could be harmful. Such bases are built on recent theories suggesting that too many connections is not always better and that the balance of synaptic activity is very important for the process of learning and memory.

"Synapses are dynamic structures. Turns out that the molecule SynCAM 1 ties synapses together, some of these molecules are needed to make contact, but too many of connecting molecules reduces the amount of synapses and inhibits their function. Effects molecules SynCAM 1 seems a little on the sculptor’s work, which gives the desired form synapses. " Bider also noted that the molecule is almost identical in mouse and in man, and may play the same role in human brain.


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