That flies can learn smells even when critical nerve endings in their brains are blocked is helping to sort out the steps that keep memories in mind. By silencing synapses — the connections between nerve cells — Tim Tully, of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, New York, and colleagues have shown that an idle mushroom body — part of the fly brain involved in olfactory associative learning — has no effect on the insects’ memory-making (Nature, Vol. 411 No. 6836, 24 May 2001).
Tully’s team used a heat-sensitive gene mutation to show that synaptic transmission from the ‘mushroom body’ is required during memory retrieval, but not during acquisition or storage.
Research like this helps illuminate how brains of different sizes cope with learning and remembering, Randolf Menzel and Uli Müller of the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, explain in an accompanying News and Views article.
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