Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

This Is Your Brain On Fatty Acids: Scientists Discover Lipid May Be Vital To Learning

Date:
November 2, 2009
Source:
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Summary:
Saturated fats have a deservedly bad reputation, but scientists have discovered that a sticky lipid occurring naturally at high levels in the brain may help us memorize grandma's recipe for cinnamon buns, as well as recall how, decades ago, she served them up steaming from the oven.

Saturated fats have a deservedly bad reputation, but Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that a sticky lipid occurring naturally at high levels in the brain may help us memorize grandma's recipe for cinnamon buns, as well as recall how, decades ago, she served them up steaming from the oven.

Related Articles


The Hopkins team, reporting Oct. 29 in Neuron, reveals how palmitate, a fatty acid, marks certain brain proteins -- NMDA receptors -- that need to be activated for long-term memory and learning to take place. The fatty substance directs the receptors to specific locations in the outer membrane of brain cells, which continually strengthen and weaken their connections with each other, sculpting and resculpting new memory circuits.

Moreover, the researchers report, this fatty modification is a reversible process, with some sort of on-off switch, offering possibilities for manipulating it to enhance or even, perhaps, erase memory.

"Before now, no one knew that NMDA receptors change in response to the addition of palmitate," says Richard Huganir, Ph.D., professor and director of the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins.

Scientists have known that a brain signaling chemical called glutamate normally activates NMDA receptors, allowing two neurons to communicate with one another. However, they were less certain what allowed this receptor to assemble properly, or what caused it to make its way to the synapse, the specialized part of nerve cells where communication takes place.

The discovery emerged from work with live neurons in a dish, to which the scientists first fed radioactive palmitate, then separated out the NMDA receptors. By tracking radioactivity on X-ray film, they were able to determine that the fat had attached to the NMDA receptors.

Next, the scientists put both normal and altered NMDA receptors into non-brain cells that don't normally manufacture their own NMDA receptors. By tracking the radioactive fat, they were able to determine where on the NMDA receptor the fat had attached.

Results showed that the NMDA receptor undergoes "dual palmitoylation," in two different regions, each of which plays a distinct role in controlling the fate of the receptor in neurons. When the fat attaches to the first region, it stabilizes the receptor on the surface of neurons. When the fat attaches to the second region, the receptors accumulate inside neurons, perhaps awaiting a signal to send them to synapses. The researchers suspect that this could be part of a quality control measure, assuring that all the Lego-like protein subunits of the receptor are put together properly.

"It is rapidly becoming clear that palmitate regulates not only NMDA receptors, but also other brain proteins at work during signaling across synapses," says Gareth Thomas, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellow at Hopkins.

The researchers suspect that if palmitoylation fails, the result would be learning and memory impairment because if NMDA receptors don't make their way to the synapses -- the specialized contact points between cells across which chemical messages flow -- then communication between neurons is compromised.

"This new modification of the NMDA receptor deepens our molecular understanding of how synapses are regulated and how memories might be formed. It also reveals new potential drug targets, such as the enzymes that add or remove the palmitate," Huganir says. "If we could shift the balance of the palmitoylation, then perhaps we could affect and enhance learning and memory."

This study was supported by research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Authors on the paper are Takashi Hayashi, Gareth Thomas and Richard Huganir of Johns Hopkins.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "This Is Your Brain On Fatty Acids: Scientists Discover Lipid May Be Vital To Learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091031002321.htm>.
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. (2009, November 2). This Is Your Brain On Fatty Acids: Scientists Discover Lipid May Be Vital To Learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091031002321.htm
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. "This Is Your Brain On Fatty Acids: Scientists Discover Lipid May Be Vital To Learning." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091031002321.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

AFP (Mar. 28, 2015) — Sierra Leone imposed a three-day nationwide lockdown Friday for the second time in six months in a bid to prevent a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus. Duration: 01:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
These Popular Antibiotics Can Cause Permanent Nerve Damage

These Popular Antibiotics Can Cause Permanent Nerve Damage

Newsy (Mar. 27, 2015) — A popular class of antibiotic can leave patients in severe pain and even result in permanent nerve damage. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
WH Plan to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Germs

WH Plan to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Germs

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) — The White House on Friday announced a five-year plan to fight the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria amid fears that once-treatable germs could become deadly. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
House Ready to Pass Medicare Doc Bill

House Ready to Pass Medicare Doc Bill

AP (Mar. 26, 2015) — In rare bipartisan harmony, congressional leaders pushed a $214 billion bill permanently blocking physician Medicare cuts toward House passage Thursday, moving lawmakers closer to resolving a problem that has plagued them for years. (March 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins