✍️ Author: Dr Eleni Christoforidou
🕒 Approximate reading time: 4 minutes
Our ability to form and store memories is a complex process that involves numerous changes at the molecular level within our neurons. This blog post delves into the molecular underpinnings of memory formation and storage.
Memory formation involves structural changes at the synaptic level in neurons, a process known as synaptic plasticity. This includes the strengthening or weakening of synapses, which facilitates the storage of information. These changes occur through two major molecular processes: Long-Term Potentiation (LTP) and Long-Term Depression (LTD).
Long-Term Potentiation (LTP): This process refers to the long-lasting strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity. This strengthening is believed to contribute to the formation of memories.
Long-Term Depression (LTD): The opposite of LTP, LTD involves the long-lasting decrease in synaptic strength, which is also critical for memory formation and learning.
Several molecular players are involved in these processes, including neurotransmitters, receptors, and intracellular signalling molecules.
Neurotransmitters and Receptors: Glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, binds to its receptors on the postsynaptic neuron, leading to the activation of various intracellular signalling pathways. Among these receptors, NMDA and AMPA receptors play a key role in LTP and LTD.
Intracellular Signalling: Activation of these receptors triggers intracellular signalling cascades involving various molecules such as calcium, protein kinases, and transcription factors. These molecules, in turn, affect gene expression and protein synthesis, leading to changes in the structure and function of the synapse.
Once formed, memories undergo consolidation, a process that transforms short-term memories into long-term ones. This involves gene expression and protein synthesis, which are required for structural changes at the synapse. The precise molecular mechanisms of memory storage, however, remain a subject of ongoing research.
While we have a basic understanding of the molecular basis of memory formation and storage, many questions remain. Continued research in this field promises to further unravel the complex molecular machinery that enables us to form, store, and retrieve memories.