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What emotional memories are made of

Mouse experiments reveal ‘flight or fight’ hormone’s role

Contact: Nick Zagorski
nzagors1@jhmi.edu
443-287-2251
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Both extensive psychological research and personal experiences confirm that events that happen during heightened states of emotion such as fear, anger and joy are far more memorable than less dramatic occurrences. In a report this week in Cell, Johns Hopkins researchers and their collaborators at Cold Spring Harbor and New York University have identified the likely biological basis for this: a hormone released during emotional arousal “primes” nerve cells to remember events by increasing their chemical sensitivity at sites where nerves rewire to form new memory circuits.

Describing the brain as a big circuit board in which each new experience creates a new circuit, Hopkins neuroscience professor Richard Huganir, Ph.D. says that he and his team found that during emotional peaks, the hormone norepinephrine dramatically sensitizes synapses – the site where nerve cells make an electro-chemical connection – to enhance the sculpting of a memory into the big board.

Image showing phosphorylated GluR1 receptors congregating around sites of neuronal synapses.

Norepinephrine, more widely known as a “fight or flight” hormone, energizes the process by adding phosphate molecules to a nerve cell receptor called GluR1. The phosphates help guide the receptors to insert themselves adjacent to a synapse. “Now when the brain needs to form a memory, the nerves have plenty of available receptors to quickly adjust the strength of the connection and lock that memory into place,” Huganir says.

Huganir and his team suspected that GluR1might be a target of norepinephrine since disruptions in this receptor cause spatial memory defects in mice. They tested the idea by either injecting healthy mice with adrenaline or exposing them to fox urine, both of which increase norepinephrine levels in brain. Analyzing brain slices of the mice, the researchers saw increased phosphates on the GluR1 receptors and an increased ability of these receptors to be recruited to synapses.

When the researchers put mice in a cage, gave a mild shock, took them out of that cage and put them back in it the next day, mice who had received adrenaline or fox urine tended to “freeze” in fear – an indicator they associated the cage as the site of a shock – more frequently, suggestive of enhanced memory.

However, in a similar experiment with mice genetically engineered to have a defective GluR1 receptor that phosphates cannot attach to, adrenaline injections had no effect on mouse memory, further evidence of the “priming” effect of the receptor in response to norepinephrine.

The researchers plan on continuing their work by going in the opposite direction and engineering another mouse strain that has a permanently phosphorylated or “primed” receptor. “We’re curious to see how these mice will behave,” Huganir says. “We suspect that they’ll be pretty smart, but at the same time constantly anxious.”

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The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellowship, NARSAD, and the Ale Davis and Maxine Harrison Foundation

Authors on the paper are Hailan Hu, Eleonore Real, and Roberto Malinow of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; Joe LeDoux of New York University; and Kogo Takamiya, Myoung-Goo Kang, and Huganir of Johns Hopkins

On the Web:
http://neuroscience.jhu.edu/RichardHuganir.php
http://www.cell.com

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October 5, 2007 Posted by | General Psychiatry, Global Health Vision, Global News, Johns Hopkins University, journal Cell, Medical Journals, New York University, Norepinephrine, Research, RSS Feed, Science, W. Garfield Weston Fellows, Washington DC City Feed | 1 Comment

New gene mutation identified in common type of dementia

ST. PAUL, MN — Researchers have identified a new gene mutation linked to frontotemporal dementia, according to a study published in the July 10, 2007 issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Frontotemporal dementia, one form of which is known as Pick’s disease, involves progressive shrinking of the areas of the brain that control behavior and language. Symptoms include language problems and personality changes, often with inappropriate social behavior. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the disease does not affect memory in the early stages. The genetic form of the disease is rare; most cases occur randomly.

“We are hopeful that this finding will help us better understand how this disease works and eventually help us develop new therapies for the disease,” said study author Amalia Bruni, MD, of the Regional Neurogenetic Centre in Lamezia Terme, Italy.

The researchers discovered a new mutation in the gene named progranulin in an extended family in southern Italy. The genealogy of this family has been reconstructed for 15 generations, going back to the 16th century; 36 family members have had frontotemporal dementia. For this study, DNA tests were conducted on 70 family members, including 13 people with the disease. “This is an important result that we pursued for more than 10 years,” said study co-author Ekaterina Rogaeva, PhD, with the Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Toronto.

The mutation identified in this study is in a gene on chromosome 17. The mutation leads to a loss of progranulin, a protein growth factor that helps brain cells survive. The mutation causes only half of the protein to be produced, because only one copy of the gene is active. Production of too much progranulin has been associated with cancer.

The new gene mutation was found in nine of those family members with the disease and 10 people who are currently too young to have the symptoms of the disease. But four people with the disease did not have the gene mutation. Bruni noted that these four people belong to a branch of the family with the disease in at least three generations. “These results are intriguing, since the family has two genetically distinct diseases that appear almost identical,” said Bruni.

The Italian family had no cases with two copies of the mutated gene. “We would have expected to see cases with two copies of the mutated gene, especially since this family shares much of the same genetic material, as there have been at least five marriages between first cousins over the years,” Bruni said. “It’s possible that loss of both copies of the progranulin gene leads to the death of embryos, and that’s why there were no cases with two copies of the mutated gene.”

“Another intriguing aspect in this Italian family is the variable age at onset, which ranged from 35 to 87 years in the family members who inherited the same mutation. Our future research will try to identify the modifying factors responsible for the severity of the disorder,” said Rogaeva.

Rogaeva says their studies will also try to identify the second gene responsible for dementia in this family.

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The study was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Japan-Canada and Canadian Institutes of Health Research Joint Health Research Program, Parkinson Society of Canada, W. Garfield Weston Fellows, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, National Institute on Aging Intramural Program, Italian Ministry of Health, and the Calabria Regional Health Department.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 20,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit http://www.aan.com.

Contacts:

Angela Babb
ababb@aan.com
651-695-2789

Robin Stinnett
rstinnett@aan.com
651-695-2763

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July 10, 2007 Posted by | Alberta, Alzheimers, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Calabria Regional Health Department, Calgary, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Cancer, Chromosome 17, Epilepsy, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Italy, Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, Joint Health Research Program, Lamezia Terme, Multiple Sclerosis, Neurodegenerative Diseases, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, Ottawa, Parkinson Society of Canada, Parkinson's, Pick's Disease, Progranulin, Protein Growth Factor, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Stroke, The American Academy of Neurology, Toronto, University of Toronto, Virginia, W. Garfield Weston Fellows, WASHINGTON, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World News | Leave a comment