A change of mind

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 03:35 in Psychology & Sociology

Plasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to external input — is critical for most cognitive functions, including learning and memory. Those changes usually involve a strengthening or weakening of synapses, the connections between brain cells (neurons).MIT neuroscientists have now found that a single protein, known as Arc, appears to control neurons’ ability to strengthen and weaken their synapses by regulating the number of neurotransmitter receptors on their surfaces. The finding could help researchers identify new drug targets for Fragile X and Angelman syndromes — inherited forms of mental retardation that have been linked to deficits of Arc. “The more we understand the chain of cellular events that Arc is involved in, the more we can identify particular targets where we could intervene,” says Mriganka Sur, head of MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS).Sur and Mark Bear, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience, are senior authors of...

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