Researchers have created a novel molecule imaging technique for seeing mRNA molecules in live mouse brains. The study offers a fresh understanding of how memories are created and retained in the brain and may one day help researchers better understand conditions like Alzheimer’s. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The method by which memory is really produced and stored in the brain is still shrouded in a great deal of uncertainty. It is generally known that the process of creating and storing memories causes the production of mRNA, a kind of RNA involved in the production of proteins, but the technology for investigating this process at the cellular level has been limited. In earlier research, the brains of mice were frequently dissected and examined.
The new molecule imaging technique provides scientists with a window into RNA creation in a mouse’s brain while the animal is still alive was created by a research team under the direction of a faculty member from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
“We still know very little about memories in the brain,” explained Hye Yoon Park, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It’s well known that mRNA synthesis is important for memory, but it was never possible to image this in a live brain. Our work is an important contribution to this field. We now have this new technology that neurobiologists can use for various different experiments and memory tests in the future.”
The procedure used by the team, which was directed by the University of Minnesota, included genetic engineering, two-photon excitation microscopy, and improved image processing software. The researchers were able to determine when and where the mouse’s brain released Arc mRNA by genetically altering the mouse to create mRNA that was tagged with green fluorescent proteins taken from a jellyfish.
The fact that the mouse is alive allowed the researchers to observe it for a longer amount of time. Using this novel molecule imaging technique, the researchers carried out two studies on the mouse in which they could observe in real time what the neurons, or nerve cells, were doing over the course of a month while the mouse developed and stored memories.
Neuroscientists have long hypothesized that certain neural networks fire in the brain during the formation of memories and then again during recall of those memories. But in both studies, the researchers discovered that separate neural networks activated on various days to activate the mouse’s memory.
In the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) region of the brain, they were able to identify a small cluster of cells that overlapped or consistently produced the Arc mRNA over the course of several days after the mouse formed this memory. They believe this cluster is in charge of the long-term storage of that memory.
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