Scientists in Bristol have identified a new mechanism which could control the way nerve cells – responsible for learning and long-term memory – in the brain communicate with each other.
The researchers said the finding could have major benefits to understanding what goes wrong in the brains of people who develop neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“These discoveries represent a significant advance and will have far-reaching implications for the understanding of memory, cognition, developmental plasticity and neuronal network formation and stabilisation,” said Professor Jeremy Henley of Bristol University.
The average human brain contains around 100 billion nerve cells, each making about 10,000 electrical connections to other never cells.
Long-term potentiation, or LTP, helps increase the strength of the electrical current running through the nerve cells. But it is when these signals go wrong that they lead to neurological conditions
In patients with Alzheimer’s disease there is a visible lack of LTP, decreasing the strength of the signals, while those with epilepsy may have overactive LTP.
Professor Henley concluded: “In summary, we believe this is a ground-breaking study that opens new lines of inquiry which will increase understanding of the molecular details of synaptic function in health and disease.”