Just as geneticists are finding that proteins play a complex and often crucial role in the expression of genes, the link between memory and proteins presents much new territory for neuroscience. That makes it exciting, for those in the field; and tantalizingly inconclusive. Work being done by Dr. Nahum Sonenberg at McGill University (Canada) has been looking into the role of proteins in the formation of neurons (nerve cells) and the connections made between neurons for communication.
Many proteins are important for communications between brain cells, but the research team focused on a particular protein (4E-BP2) that controls the process of producing new proteins in the nervous system (e.g. the brain). They discovered that the protein undergoes deamidation an alteration of a specific amino acid in the protein’s structure, in this case, the amino acid asparagine is altered. When this happens the protein becomes directly involved with memory cell formation. The process of deamidation is related to cell development as, for example, areas of the brain mature.
These are novel findings, although it is becoming increasingly understood that the role of proteins and protein formation in neurons is more important than originally thought.
“Better understanding of protein synthesis in the brain is crucial to the advancement of neuroscience, particularly as researchers discover that altered proteins may have a direct impact on the memory process,” says Dr. Anthony Phillips, Scientific Director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.