Researchers in the journal Neuron have identified a unique memory suppressor gene in the brain cells of Drosophila, the common fruit fly, a widely recognized substitute for human memory studies.
Scientists screened approximately 3,500 Drosophila genes and identified several dozen new memory suppressor genes that the brain has to help filter information and store only important parts. One of these suppressor genes, in particular, caught their attention.
When the scientists disabled this gene, known as DmSLC22A, flies' memory of smells (the most widely studied form of memory in this model) was enhanced--while overexpression of the gene inhibited that same memory function.
The gene in question belongs to a family of "plasma membrane transporters," which produce proteins that move molecules, large and small, across cell walls. In the case of DmSLC22A, the new study indicates that the gene makes a protein involved in moving neurotransmitter molecules from the synaptic space between neurons back into the neurons.
When DmSLC22A functions normally, the protein removes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from the synapse, helping to terminate the synaptic signal. When the protein is missing, more acetylcholine persists in the synapse, making the synaptic signal stronger and more persistent, leading to enhanced memory.
The next step is to develop a screen for inhibitors of this pathway that, independently or in concert with other treatments, may offer a more effective way to deal with the problems of memory loss due to Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.