Monday, 21 January, 2019

Snail Memory Transplant Performed Using RNA, Scientists Say

WIKIMEDIA GENNY ANDERSON WIKIMEDIA GENNY ANDERSON
Samantha Long | 15 May, 2018, 11:39

For decades, researchers have tried to pinpoint how, when, and where memories form.

"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 United States", said Glanzman, whose study appears in the journal eNeuro.

First, David Glanzman at the University of California taught an untrained California sea hare (Aplysia californica) to react defensively to "tail stimulation" - a shock.

The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease. They received one shock every 20 minutes, five times in a row followed by five more after 24 hours. The shocks enhance the snail's defensive withdrawal reflex, a response it displays for protection from potential harm.

According to the BBC, the team observed that sensitized snails had a defensive contraction of up to 50 seconds, whereas the specimens that weren't familiar with the electric shock only contracted for about a second.

The life scientists extracted RNA from the nervous systems of marine snails that received the tail shocks the day after the second series of shocks, and also from marine snails that did not receive any shocks. Here, it is reported that RNA extracted from the central nervous system of Aplysia given long-term sensitization training induced sensitization when injected into untrained animals; furthermore, the RNA-induced sensitization, like training-induced sensitization, required DNA methylation.

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The experiment revealed that the recipients of the "memory transplant" contracted for about 40 seconds when tapped, suggesting that the RNA injections had transferred the memory of the electric shock to the unsensitized snails.

"It's as though we transferred the memory", said Glanzman, who is also a member of UCLA's Brain Research Institute. Like all mollusks, these snails have groups of neurons called ganglia, rather than brains.

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. Zapping the culture with a bit of current excited the sensory neurons much more than neurons treated with RNA from nonshocked snails.

An even closer look showed the new RNA even changed the way the snails' sensory (but not motor) neurons behaved 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. The team found that the snail synapses built to "store" a memory weren't necessarily the synapses that were removed from the neural circuits in the memory-erasing experiments.

"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", he said.

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