Often overlooked glial cell is key to learning and memory: Biomedical scientists offer simple advice: Keep the brain active -- ScienceDaily
In the lab, the researchers artificially increased levels of ephrin-B1 in mice and then tested them for memory retention. They found that the mice could not remember a behavior they had just learned. In cell culture studies, they added neurons to astrocytes that overexpressed ephrin-B1 and were able to see synapse removal, with the astrocytes "eating up" the synapses.
"Excessive loss of synapses is a problem," Ethell said. "The hippocampus, the region of the brain associated primarily with memory, is plastic. Here, new neuronal connections are formed when we learn something new. But the hippocampus has a limited capacity; some connections need to go to 'make space' for new connections -- new memories. To learn, we must first forget."
In contrast to an ephrin-B1 increase, when this protein decreases (or is down-regulated) it results in more synapses -- and better learning. The astrocytes, in this case, are not able to attach to the synapses.
"But you don't want to remember everything," said Amanda Q Nguyen, a Neuroscience Graduate Program student working in Ethell's lab, and a co-first author of the research paper. "It's all about maintaining a balance: being able to learn but also to forget."
Advice the researchers have for the public is simple: keep the brain -- that is, the neurons -- active.
"Reading and solving puzzles is a good start," Ethell said.