Montréal, August 29, 2005 – A group of Montreal researchershas discovered that GCN2, a protein in cells that inhibits theconversion of new information into long-term memory, may be a masterregulator of the switch from short-term to long-term memory. Theirpaper Translational control of hippocampal synaptic plasticity andmemory by the eIF2a kinase GCN2, which was published in the August 25thissue of the journal Nature, provides the first genetic evidence thatprotein synthesis is critical for the regulation of memory formation.
Thisnew discovery is the fruit of an international collaboration. The workof McGill researchers Nahum Sonenberg, Karim Nader, Wayne Sossin andClaudio Cuello, Jean-Claude Lacaille and Nabil Seidah of the Universitéde Montréal, and David Ron of New York University sheds light on themysterious workings of the hippocampus, a region of the brainresponsible for learning and memory.
"Not all new information weacquire is stored as long-term memory," says Dr. Costa-Mattioli, apost-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Sonenberg, whospearheaded the research project. "For example, it takes most people anumber of attempts to learn new things, such as memorizing a passagefrom a book. The first few times we may initially succeed in memorizingthe passage, but the memory may not be stored completely in the brainand we will have to study the passage again."
In a series ofexperiments, the researchers demonstrated that mice bred without theGCN2 protein (known as transgenic mice) acquire new information thatdoes not fade as easily as that of normal mice. This new information ismore frequently converted into long-term memory. The researchersconcluded that GCN2 may prevent new information from being stored inlong-term memory.
Adds Dr.Jean-Claude Lacaille: "The process ofswitching to long-term memory in the brain requires both the activationof molecules that facilitate memory storage, and the silencing ofproteins such as GCN2 that inhibit memory storage."
Althoughresearch on humans is still a distant possibility, the scientistsbelieve their discovery may hold promise in the treatment of a varietyof illnesses linked to memory. "The discovery of the role of GCN2 inlong-term memory may help us develop targeted drugs designed to enhancememory in patients with memory loss due to illnesses such asAlzheimer's disease, where protein synthesis and memory are impaired,"concludes Dr. Karim Nader.
About Université de Montréal
Foundedin 1878, the Université de Montréal counts 13 faculties and, along withits two affiliated schools, HEC Montréal and l'École Polytechnique, isQuebec's largest institution of higher learning, second in Canada, andamong the most active in North America. With a faculty of 2,400professors and researchers, the university has a student population ofmore than 55,000, offers more than 650 undergraduate and graduateprograms and awards some 3,000 Master's and PhD degrees each year.
About McGill University
McGillUniversity is Canada's leading research-intensive university and hasearned an international reputation for scholarly achievement andscientific discovery. Founded in 1821, McGill has 21 faculties andprofessional schools which offer more than 300 programs from theundergraduate to the doctoral level. McGill attracts renownedprofessors and researchers from around the world and top students frommore than 150 countries, creating one of the most dynamic and diverseeducation environments in North America. There are approximately 23,000undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students. It is one of twoCanadian members of the American Association of Universities. McGill'stwo campuses are located in Montreal, Canada.
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