Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Medical | By

United States scientists successfully transfer memory among marine snails

United States scientists successfully transfer memory among marine snails

"At the moment, we do not have much mechanistic insight about how this memory transfer is achieved", Puthanveettil told Live Science.

But now a team of researchers from the Society of Neuroscience revealed in a paper in eNeuro that it has successfully transferred memories between organisms simply by injecting RNA from one into the other. The untrained snails that receive RNA from untrained donors showed no defensive response. A group of untrained snails received RNA from the trained group and the second group received RNA from an untrained group.

These results, the researchers write in the study, offer "dramatic support for the idea that memory can be stored non-synaptically".

RNA actually means ribonucleic acid and it's a large molecule that fulfills many important roles within the biological organisms. The UCLA team applied mild electric shocks to the creatures' tails in order to provoke a defense mechanism - a withdrawal reflex in which the snails contracted to protect themselves from harm. When tapping the snails, the ones in shock training contracted their bodies for nearly 50 seconds to defend themselves.

Once this initial phase of the experiment was completed, the researchers extracted RNA from the sensitized sea hare snails and injected it into untrained specimens. So, in a third test, he and his team removed sensory neurons from nonshocked snails, cultured the cells in a dish, and then exposed the cells to RNA from shocked snails.

Biologists in the United States managed to carry a certain nasty memory from one sea snail to another, thus creating an artificial memory in the second.


As UCLA explains in a statement, the snails that had been shocked were displaying a simple type of learning known as "sensitization".

"It's like we carried the memory", said Gladman and argued that memories are not stored in synapses of neurons (each neuron has several thousand synapses), as is widely believed, but in the nucleus of neurons. They chose to see whether something beyond the brain cells' connections to each other - namely, RNA - could be hanging on to the memory.

Right now, there's a lot more work to be done before scientists can say they've found the stuff of memory.

To treat memory-related illnesses in humans, we've first got to understand how the brain stores memories in the first place.

Interestingly, sea snails and humans share similar cells and molecular processes - and it is hoped the research could lead to progress in understanding memory in humans.

"I think in the not-too-distant future, we could potentially use RNA to ameliorate the effects of Alzheimer's disease or post-traumatic stress disorder", said David Glanzman, senior author of the study and a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology.

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