United States scientists achieve world's first memory transplant

Grant Boone
May 15, 2018

"These basic science approaches to explore this are very, very useful for identifying some of the foundation building blocks, if you will, of how this might contribute to the more complicated memories that you think of in humans", said Newbern.

A group of scientist from the University of California (UCLA) have successfully transplanted memories from one snail to another.

Once the snail had established an involuntary defensive reflex, the team extracted its ribonucleic acid (RNA). But scientists have been studying sea snails for a long time, and they know an bad lot about how the organisms learn. But the ones injected with RNA from the trained snails?

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. Moreover, a specific cellular adjustment that underlies sensitization in Aplysia, sensory neuron hyperexcitability, can be reproduced by exposing sensory neurons in vitro to RNA from trained animals. The seven snails reacted as though they had received the tail shocks by displaying a defensive contraction of about 40 seconds.

They saw a similar effect when they did the same thing to sensory nerve cells being studied in petri dishes.

"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.

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Professor Glanzman stressed the marine snails were not hurt by the experiment, but they were alarmed.

"So, these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren't physically damaged by the shocks", he explained.

It's now widely accepted that memory storage is enabled by modifications to the synapses - the structures in the brain that transfer signals between the neurons.

Glanzman said the snail memory transplant shows memories may not reside in synapses as previously thought.

The UCLA professor of integrative biology holds a different view, believing that memories are stored in the nuclei of neurons. If confirmed in other species, the finding may lead to a shift in scientists' thinking about how memories are made-rather than cemented in nerve-cell connections, they may be spurred on by RNA-induced epigenetic changes. It is now understood to have other important functions besides protein coding, including regulation of a variety of cellular processes involved in development and disease. Firstly, while A. californica is widely used to study neurological processes because of the way their neurons are similar to ours, what we observe in animal models can't always be applied to humans.

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