Memory Transplant Successfully Done on Snails

California sea hare in tide pool at low tide

California sea hare in tide pool at low tide

Several years ago, though, he and his colleagues began replicating memory-erasing research done in rodents in California sea hares (Aplysia californica), a type of marine snail also called a sea slug.

The idea that RNA may be responsible for memory storage dates back to the 1950s. 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.

He said that if the memories were held in the synapses that the experiment would not have been able to work. Animals have developed a protective reflex, expressed in the contraction of the muscles during 50 seconds in subsequent contacts with the electrodes.

The snails that received the implants had a defensive reaction of about 40 seconds after the implants, even though they had not had a reaction previously, the BBC reported.

Researchers led by Professor of Biology, David Gladman, of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), who published the publication in the eNeuro scientific paper, said research of this kind could open new paths for the treatment of painful memories in humans due to mental trauma, and vice versa for the recovery of lost memories.

After sensitising the sea snails, Glanzman extracted RNA from the animals and injected it into other sea snails to see what happened. Seralynne Vann from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom made an interesting point about the chances of applying a similar technique in the study of human memory. Snails in the control group, which biologists did not cause sensitisation, duration of the reaction to the current was one second.

Professor David Glanzman
Professor David Glanzman

Glanzman said the snail memory transplant shows memories may not reside in synapses as previously thought.

Although the snail has only 20,000 neurons in its central nervous system, while the man around 100 billion, the cellular and molecular mechanisms appear to be very similar in snails and humans.

A memory transplant procedure might sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. So, in a third test, he and his team removed sensory neurons from nonshocked snails, cultured the cells in a dish, and then exposed the cells to RNA from shocked snails. But scientists have gradually realized that there is more to RNA than playing messenger.

However UCLA's work seems to contradict this. But many of these setups have involved using proteins to flag specific neurons, usually in mice. The experiments should also be replicated in organisms other than snails, he says.

As Glanzman points out, if that theory were true, then the experiment wouldn't have succeeded. Another camp believed memories were stored in the nuclei of neurons.

Glanzman is not the first to suggest that memory storage may be far more complex, and involve more mechanisms, than is commonly assumed. "But if we're right, we're just at the beginning of understanding how memory works".

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