May 20, 2018

The researchers first moved the memory of one living being to another

15 May 2018, 07:44 | Winifred Adams



For the study, researchers from the University of California Los Angeles administered a series of mild electric shocks to marine snails from a species called Aplysia. A group of untrained snails received RNA from the trained group and the second group received RNA from an untrained group.

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.

"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked". Experiments in the 1960s, however, suggested RNA could play a role in making memories, though the work was largely written off as irreproducible. When Glanzman and his colleagues blocked DNA methylation in snails getting RNA from shocked ones, the injected snails withdrew their siphons for only a few seconds when tapped on the siphon.

Speaking of what this means, Glanzman said: "What we are talking about are very specific kinds of memories, not the sort that says what happened to me on my fifth birthday, or who is the president of the USA". They held the pose for 40 seconds, as if they remembered how to respond to a stimulus, even though they had never encountered it before.

Results showed that the untrained snails that received RNA from trained snails had the same response to taps as if they were shocked, and contracted for nearly 40 seconds.

Researchers were able to transfer the memories of a sea slug scared of being shocked to another sea slug.

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"It's as though we transferred the memory", said David Glanzman, a professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology at UCLA, and senior author of the study, said in a statement.

The second group then received the shocks and the snails contracted for only about two seconds. And, as a comparison, they took the RNA from the unsensitized snails and injected it into a control group of seven other snails that had also not received any shocks.

Glanzman wanted to know if the RNA from shocked snails actually affected the neuronal connections of the snails receiving the injections any differently than RNA from nonshocked snails. Adding RNA from a marine snail that was not given the tail shocks did not produce this increased excitability in sensory neurons.

However UCLA's work seems to contradict this. The researchers also tested some of the same techniques on snail neurons in a petri dish. The memory is not stored in the RNA itself, he speculates-instead, noncoding RNA produces epigenetic changes in the nucleus of neurons, thereby storing the memory. "But if we're right, we're just at the beginning of understanding how memory works".

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