Brain blocks new memory formation on waking to safeguard consolidation of existing memories

Brain blocks new memory formation on waking to safeguard consolidation of existing memories

Throughout our waking lives we are exposed to a continuous stream of stimuli and experiences. Some of these experiences trigger the strengthening of connections between neurons in the brain, and begin the process of forming memories. However, these initial memory traces are fragile and only a small number will become long-term memories with the potential to last a lifetime. For this transition to occur, the brain must stabilize the memory traces through a process called consolidation.

Let’s sleep on it

During consolidation, the brain produces new proteins that strengthen the fragile memory traces. However, if a new experience occurs while an existing memory trace is being consolidated, the new stimuli could disrupt or even hijack the consolidation process.

The brain partially solves this problem by postponing some of the memory consolidation to a period in which new experiences are minimalized, that is, while we are asleep. But what happens if we wake up while consolidation is taking place? How does the brain prevent events that occur just after awakening from interrupting the consolidation process?

A new study by Prof. Abraham Susswein of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences and The Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University, has now answered this question. Published in eLife, the article’s first author is Roi Levy, whose doctoral research — conducted in Prof. Susswein’s lab — is described in the present study, which also includes part of the doctoral research of David Levitan.

Susswein and his colleagues have used a seemingly unlikely subject for their study, namely the sea hare Aplysia. These marine slugs are convenient for neuroscientific investigation because of their simple nervous systems and large neurons, and because they have been shown to be capable of basic forms of learning.

Just after training during waking hours, proteins are synthesized to initiate the consolidation of new memory. Consolidation proteins are produced again in greater quantities during sleep for subsequent processes on the memory trace. The researchers found that blocking the production of consolidation proteins in sleeping sea slugs prevents these creatures from forming long-term memories, confirming that, like us, they do consolidate memories during sleep… Read More>>

Source: Science Daily

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