Transplanting Memories Into The Brain Is Possible, Scientists Show With Snails

Transplanting Memories Into The Brain Is Possible, Scientists Show With Snails

Then, 24 hours later, the researchers repeated the process.

When the researchers subsequently tapped the snails, they found those that had been given the shocks displayed a defensive contraction lasting about 50 seconds, while those that had not received the shocks contracted for only about one second. Moreover, a specific cellular adjustment that underlies sensitization in Aplysia, sensory neuron hyperexcitability, can be reproduced by exposing sensory neurons in vitro to RNA from trained animals. The molecules were then injected into two groups of untrained snails.

The experiment revealed that the recipients of the "memory transplant" contracted for about 40 seconds when tapped, suggesting that the RNA injections had transferred the memory of the electric shock to the unsensitized snails.

It was "as though we had transferred the memory", study co-author and UCLA professor David Glanzman said, the BBC reported. Soon after, the RNA from the subject was extracted and injected into another sea snail to see what happened. Some dishes had RNA from marine snails that had been given electric tail shocks, and some dishes contained RNA from snails that had not been given shocks.

In a statement for The Guardian, Glanzman commented on the nature of the experiment, noting that the type of memories that were transplanted from one snail to another was crucial to the success of the procedure. Zapping the culture with a bit of current excited the sensory neurons much more than neurons treated with RNA from nonshocked snails.

According to the researchers, the experiments show how essential parts of the memory trace, or engram, that gives rise to sea hare sensitisation are held in RNA, rather than in the connectivity of brain cells as traditional neuroscience dictates.

Of course, we'll need further research to confirm this possibility. The cellular and molecular processes seem to be very similar between the marine snail and humans, even though the snail has about 20,000 neurons in its central nervous system and humans are thought to have about 100 billion.

And it's possible that the RNA is transferring some other process, not necessarily memory.

The UCLA team suggests their research might one day allow us to, as the study states, "modify, enhance, or depress memories". "This work tells me that maybe the most basic behavioural responses involve some kind of switch in the animal and there is something in the soup that Glanzman extracts that is hitting that switch".

But if Glanzman is right, his discovery could be a game-changer for those whose lives are negatively impacted by memory.

That could lead to new ways for people with early-stage Alzheimer's to regain some of what they lost, or novel treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

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