Now, neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School have taken a decisive step in the quest to understand the biology of long-term memory and find ways to intervene when memory deficits occur with age or disease.
Reporting in Nature on Dec. 9, they describe a newly identified mechanism that neurons in the adult mouse hippocampus use to regulate signals they receive from other neurons, in a process that appears critical for memory consolidation and recall.
The researchers observed that new experiences activate sparse populations of neurons in the hippocampus that express two genes, Fos and Scg2. These genes allow neurons to fine-tune inputs from so-called inhibitory interneurons, cells that dampen neuronal excitation. In this way, small groups of disparate neurons may form persistent networks with coordinated activity in response to an experience.