Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Emotion enhancing learning and memory - a mechanism

Emotion enhances our ability to form vivid memories of even trivial events. Eric Nestler points to a study by Hu et al. that links this behavioral outcome to its molecular cause. They
...elucidated a molecular mechanism by which emotional stress and arousal promote long-term memory formation. In doing so, they brought together two well-characterized phenomena: that noradrenaline stimulates memory formation in the brain's hippocampus, and that the trPublish Postafficking of a type of glutamate receptor is important for a form of plasticity in the same brain region.

Malinow's team shows that, by stimulating noradrenaline release in the hippocampus, emotional stress leads to phosphorylation of glutamate receptors. This boosts the incorporation of these receptors at the synapse — the junction between nerve cells — which, in turn, enhances synaptic function and improves memory formation. Crucially, mice with a mutation that prevents phosphorylation of the relevant part of the glutamate receptor do not show noradrenaline-mediated memory enhancement.

Impressively, this study begins with a clinically important phenomenon — memory enhancement by emotional stress — and establishes a detailed biological pathway that underlies a behavioural endpoint in an animal model.

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