Cool Stuff Last Week: Strengthening or removing memories and what the gene required for multicellularity tells us about the origin of cancer

  1.  A step to strengthen memories by manipulating neurotransmitters

In a new paper in Neuron, a group at Stony Brook University completely removed or strengthened memories by manipulating acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter or chemical that works in a part of the brain known as the amygdala.

Using opto-genetics in mice, a method to control processes in cells using light , the group either added acetylcholine or removed it during the formation of fear driven memories. Surprisingly, they found that when they increased acetylcholine concentration the traumatic memories became two times stronger. Removing acetylcholine had the opposite effect, the traumatic memory was pretty much wiped away!

Cholinergic neurons, neurons that use acetylecholine, are hard to study because there are less of them and they are often interconnected with other neurons. Despite this, the group hopes that in the long-term they can determine how to strengthen good memories and diminish or remove bad ones!

  1.    Gene in pond scum tells us about the origin of cancer

A group at the University of Arizona found the gene that is necessary for organisms to be multicellular is also altered in cancer. Multicellularity is important in the progression of cancer. Retinoblastoma, or RB is involved in the cell cycle, acting like a checkpoint making sure that the cell is ready to divide before it does. When it is not functioning properly, the cells may divide uncontrollably: Cancer.

The group took RB from a multicellular alga and introduced it to a unicellular alga. Multicellular organisms are made of multiple cells rather than one cell. Interestingly, the unicellular alga became multicellular!  This is really exciting as it represents one of the first steps into the evolution of plants and animals. The group is hopeful that this information will help scientists understand the origin of cancer for new treatments.

Michelle Rubin (Editor-in-Chief)
Photo on 3-31-13 at 9.15 PM #2 Michelle is  a fourth year biomedical PhD student. She is extremely interested in science policy and hope to pursue that after her  studies. Let her know what you think of the blog on twitter! @michellejrubin.


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