The Best of 2015 // #98: The Brain that Changes itself

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Best of 2015

The human brain is an amazing thing; it continually juggles the incoming data from new experiences and moments in each and every day with storing older memories.  Until 2015, scientists really had no idea how the brain was even able to do all that it does.

Two studies, both published in June, revealed that Neurons are actively changing their DNA.

READ MORE // Research finds Link Between Porn Watching And Less Grey Matter

A big part of this trick lies in Methylation and Dementhylation – the processes of adding and removing so-called ‘Chemical Tags’ to specific spots in the DNA that turn genes on and off.

Neuron brain
…and this is a neuron.

Researchers discovered this methylation/demethylation occurring in adult mice neurons was altering the cells.  Even more surprising was the process occurring in an adult mouse:

researched previous believed methylation only happened during the brain’s development stages.

On the back of this research, Neurobiologists David Sweats and Hongjun Song began to wonder if methyl groups – ‘chemical tags’ – had any affect on long-term memory.  Neutrons fire at a known, constant rate to form memories, but new experiences can overstimulate them.  To mimic the learning process, each team altered the firing rates of neurons, chemically or genetically, to see how neurons would be able to keep the process in check.  The neurons used the Methylation and Dementhylation processes together, constantly fine tuning the process by turning genes on or off that make signal receptors.

This experiment was groundbreaking, and finally showed us that neurons alter their own DNA.

This crucial step brings scientists one stop closer to understanding the molecular functioning behind memories.

There’s more stories from 2015.  Check out the Best of 2015 series here

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