Currents

    Chemicals May Add Details to Memories

    In a recent study with rats, researchers from UC Irvine discovered that the level of a chemical signal in the brain determines how detailed memories will later become.

    The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical already known to be critical in learning and memory, is now thought to be the key to attaching details to memories.

    Norman Weinberger, a UC Irvine research professor of neurobiology and behavior, and colleagues determined that higher levels of acetylcholine during learning tasks correlated with more facets of the experience being remembered.

    The study exposed rats to tones of different frequencies, which were paired with stimulation to the nucleus basalis, the brain region that relays auditory commands by secreting acetylcholine.

    During some experiments, stimulation was weak, whereas in others it was stronger. When tones were replayed the following day, scientists measured how well the rats remembered the frequencies by calculating changes in respiration rates.

    The results showed that weaker activation of the nucleus basalis, which corresponds to lower acetylcholine release, led the rats to remember the tones but not specific frequencies, whereas with greater stimulation and more acetylcholine, rats could remember frequencies along with the tones.

    The results are the first to discover the link between acetylcholine and memory specificity and could have implications for treating memory-related disorders.

    Campus Researchers Get Counterterrorism Funds

    The National Institutes of Health have awarded UCSD faculty members five-year grants for two projects designed to develop new and improved medical countermeasures against chemical threats.

    Professor of medicine Gerald R. Boss was awarded $3.3 million for both preclinical and clinical studies of a detoxifying agent for cyanide, a highly toxic chemical that could be potentially used as a weapon of mass destruction. In addition, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Dean and pharmacology professor Palmer Taylor received $3.46 million to develop methods for degrading nerve gas and eliminating toxicity after exposure.

    The grants are meant to support therapeutics and techniques to improve the United States’ medical response capabilities in the event of terrorist chemical attacks, or other widespread disasters such as chemical spills. The NIH intends to commit about $10 million this year for such projects.

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