Health Care

'Memory transplant' achieved in snails

'Memory transplant' achieved in snails

Scientists believe they have successfully transplanted the memory of snails into other snails.

The "memory transplant" was achieved through ribonucleic acid (RNA) injections and provides new tantalizing clues regarding the memory trace - also known as an engram, the presumed physical substrate of memory.

Typically when we think of memory, the consensus is that memories are encoded in connections between our brain cells, but neurobiologist David Glanzman is of the opinion that RNA actually holds the key. The team's research is published May 14 in eNeuro, the online journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

However, speaking with The Guardian, Tomás Ryan, a studier of memory at Trinity College Dublin, is not exactly convinced that Glanzman and his team have demonstrated an ability to transfer what we consider a personal memory. 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. Animals have developed a protective reflex, expressed in the contraction of the muscles during 50 seconds in subsequent contacts with the electrodes. The shocks enhance the snail's defensive withdrawal reflex, a response it displays for protection from potential harm. Those that had not been given the shocks contracted for only about one second.

Next, researchers extracted RNA from the trained and untrained snails. The snails received five electric shock - one every 20 minutes, and after 24 hours they repeated the process.

The snails that received the implants had a defensive reaction of about 40 seconds after the implants, even though they had not had a reaction previously, the BBC reported.

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"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."

"So, these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren't physically damaged by the shocks", he explained. They had, in essence, transferred the fear of being shocked. Like all mollusks, these snails have groups of neurons called ganglia, rather than brains. The experiments should also be replicated in organisms other than snails, he says.

More tests in petri dishes showed that the RNA from trained snails showed that their sensory neurons were more excited than the ones of the untrained snails.

Previous studies point out that, after amnesia, long-term memory can be restored by using a priming component. "Obviously further work needs to be carried out to determine whether these changes are robust and what are the underlying mechanisms", said Prof Seralynne Vann, who studies memory at Cardiff University.

He said: "If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked".


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