Newly identifed molecules necessary for memory formation

Aug. 14, 2013 — Memory decline is a part of aging for most people, but very few treatments are available to reverse this loss because the deeper cellular mechanisms underlying memory formation are not fully known.A new paper from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), led by Professor of Psychology Karyn Frick, identifies a new cellular mechanism necessary for memory.Frick and her team investigated a cell-signaling pathway in the hippocampus — an area of the brain critical to learning and memory — and found that it must be activated for learning and memory to take place. Findings were recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.The Wnt signaling pathway has been associated with learning and shown to play a role in neuron development, but not specifically in memory formation.Using female mice, the team found that learning about objects not only activated the canonical Wnt pathway in the hippocampus, but also that Wnt signaling was necessary for the mice to form a memory of the objects. These data suggest a vital new role for this molecular pathway in hippocampal memory formation.Because Wnt signaling is impaired in aging and Alzheimer’s disease, these findings point to Wnt signaling as a new target for drug discovery.”This information is essential for understanding what happens in the brain when memory formation doesn’t happen properly, like during aging and in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Frick. “The goal of my lab’s research is to identify the specific molecules in the brain that are necessary for memory formation, which could lead to the development of new drugs for age-related memory loss that target these specific molecules.”Now Frick’s team plans to determine whether treatments that activate canonical Wnt signaling can reverse memory deficits in aged female mice.Other authors of the paper included Ashley Fortress, Sarah Schram and Jennifer Tuscher in Frick’s lab. This study was funded by UWM and by an Ellison Medical Foundation/American Federation for Aging Research Postdoctoral Fellowship in Aging.

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Want to stick with your diet? Better have someone hide the chocolate

July 24, 2013 — If you are trying to lose weight or save for the future, new research suggests avoiding temptation may increase your chances of success compared to relying on willpower alone. The study on self-control by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Dusseldorf was published today in the journal Neuron.The researchers compared the effectiveness of willpower versus voluntarily restricting access to temptations, called ‘precommitment’. (Examples of precommitment include avoiding purchasing unhealthy food and putting money in savings accounts with hefty withdrawal fees.) They also examined the mechanisms in the brain that play a role in precommitment to better understand why it is so effective.Molly Crockett, who undertook the research while at the University of Cambridge and is currently a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at UCL, said: “Our research suggests that the most effective way to beat temptations is to avoid facing them in the first place.”For the study, the researchers recruited healthy male volunteers and gave them a series of choices: they had to decide between a tempting “small reward” available immediately, or a “large reward” available after a delay. Small rewards were mildly enjoyable erotic pictures and large rewards were extremely enjoyable erotic pictures. Since erotic pictures are immediately rewarding at the time of viewing, the researchers were able to probe the mechanisms of self-control as they unfolded in real-time. (The scientists could not use money, for example, since subjects could only reap the rewards of money once they left the lab.)For some of the choices, the small reward was continuously available, and subjects had to exert willpower to resist choosing it until the large reward became available. But for other choices, subjects were given the opportunity to precommit: before the tempting option became available, they had the ability to prevent themselves from ever encountering the temptation.The scientists measured people’s choices and brain activity as they made these decisions. They found that precommitment was a more effective self-control strategy than willpower — subjects were more likely to get the large reward when they had the opportunity to precommit. They also found that the most impulsive people (those with the weakest willpower) benefited the most from precommitment.The scientists were also able to identify the regions of the brain that play a role in willpower and precommitment. They found that precommitment specifically activates the frontopolar cortex, a region that is involved in thinking about the future. …

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