Called Netrin, the essential molecule for learning and memory has been finally identified by scientists. And the best part of it is that it’s not depleting over time in healthy adults. Even more, it’s still helping older adults’ brains learning and memorizing new things. The researchers at The Neuro have made this significant discovery, and a report was published last month in Cell Reports.
“It was a mystery why neurons would continue making Netrin in the adult brain after all the connections had already been made in infancy. We found that when a neuron is active, the activity causes it to release netrin. The netrin acts to strengthen the connection between the neuron and a neighboring neuron at the activated synaptic junction. Netrin’s essential signal to the two neurons is ‘Make the synapse stronger,'” explained Timothy Kennedy from The Neuro and the study’s leading author.
The Essential Molecule for Learning and Memory Processes, Netrin, Finally Identified
The first to discover this molecular mechanism, critical for learning and memory, was McGill’s researcher, Donald Hebb who, back in 1949 postulated that “if one neuron helped to fire another neuron, the two neurons consequently became associated.” So, when more than two neurons work on the same side, then the cognitive process takes place.
“We’re saying that this new molecular mechanism, which we discovered 69 years later, is central to this theory,” said Dr. Kennedy. “If you boil it down to one molecule, the regulated release of netrin is essential for the kind of synaptic changes that underlie the changes in the neuron that are involved in learning and memory, which was what Milner was talking about,” he added.
The Netrin molecule is “a huge target for drugs,” as Dr. Kennedy describes it. Accordingly, “if you want to save memory function, an ideal thing would be to have a compound that targets key molecular mechanisms at the synapse (…) Perhaps there is a reservoir of synapses that can be used to change the strength of connections between neurons. We believe that we’ve found a molecular mechanism to turn on those synapses,” Dr. Kennedy explained.