UCLA biologists 'transfer' a memory

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"All [that the recipients] were exposed to was RNA from a trained animal [a snail with the zap memory] or an untrained animal, or in some cases, just the chemical we used to deliver the RNA", said David Glanzman, said lead study author David Glanzman, a neuroscientist and integrative biologist at UCLA. When Glanzman repeated the experiment with RNA from sea snails that had been hooked up to wires but not shocked, the reflex behaviour did not transfer.

DNA methylation appeared to be essential for the transfer of the memory among snails. The study also provides understanding about the ways in which the brain stores memories and could be the next big thing in memory loss, dementia and related diseases.

A team of scientists at the University of California (UCLA) has successfully conducted the first memory transplant in history.

With this experiment, the researchers have concluded that long-term memories are stored in the nucleus of neurons and not in the synapses of the brain, as previously believed.

They then extracted RNA - an acid found in all living cells - from the snails' nervous systems and injected it into other snails that had not developed the reaction.

The scientists gave mild electric shocks to the tails of a species of marine snail called Aplysia californica. (For a control, the team also took RNA from non-shocked snails and injected into naive snails.) When tapped on the siphon 24 hours later, snails that got RNA from shocked snails withdrew their siphon and gill for significantly longer (almost 40 seconds) than did snails that got RNA from non-shocked animals (less than 10 seconds).

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They then tapped the snails on the tail and watched as they behaved just like the snails that had been shocked.

In other words, scientists don't know at all how this transfer happened, and it's possible there's something going on in this experiment they don't understand. This means that the snails usually contract in order to protect themselves. The next day, they went through the same shock session. In 2016, for example, the Austrian scientist Patrick C. Trettenbrein pointed out a number of problems with the synapse-memory theory-but noted that "we are now also still lacking a coherent alternative".

Glanzman and his colleagues were able to see the effect on an even more basic level in their bundle of snail neurons in a petri dish. "Obviously further work needs to be carried out to determine whether these changes are robust and what are the underlying mechanisms", said Prof Seralynne Vann, who studies memory at Cardiff University.

However UCLA's work seems to contradict this.

Unlike these setups, which tend to look at how the neuron networks themselves are involved in memory, Glanzman's group is using RNA to tinker with memory.

There are many kinds of RNA, and in future research, Glanzman wants to identify the types of RNA that can be used to transfer memories.