By Steve Connor, Science Editor
19 January 2004
A pill to prevent people forgetting things has
come a step closer with the discovery of a
protein in the brain that stimulates nerve cell
Scientists believe that the protein chemical,
cypin, is involved in learning and memory
because of the role it plays in forming
connections between brain cells.
It may be possible to develop
memory-enhancing drugs that mimic the
protein's natural effect, or at least stimulate it
to work when something goes wrong, they said.
Cypin appears to be crucial for the growth of fine filaments between nerve
cells, which could explain how memories are formed, said Professor
Bonnie Firestein of Rutgers State University of New Jersey.
When nerve cells, or neurons, fail to form new branches it may lead to
debilitating conditions such as the gradual memory loss suffered by
Alzheimer's patients, Professor Firestein said.
"The identification of cypin and understanding how it works in the brain
opens up new avenues for the treatment of serious neurological
disorders," she said.
The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that the
cypin protein in the brain works as an enzyme in shaping neurons by the
process of branching.
"One end of a neuron looks like a tree and, in the hippocampus [a brain
region involved in memory], cypin controls the growth of its branches,"
Professor Firestein said. "An increase in the number of branches provides
additional sites where a neuron can receive information that it can pass
along, enhancing communication."
Cypin was first identified in humans in 1999, but only in the latest study
was it found to be present in the brain as an active enzyme - a molecule
that speeds up biological reactions.
Cypin works by glueing structural "building blocks" together inside the long
filaments, or dendrites, that grow out of neurons, the scientists discovered.
Researchers have previously shown that these dendrites and the
connections they make are crucial for making and storing memories.
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