The genetic basis for long-term memory in humans has just been identified. In the August 1 issue of Human Molecular Genetics (Vol. 14. pp. 2241-2246) researchers from University of Zurich, Switzerland, have studied 5 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the prion protein (PRNP) gene in 354 healthy young Swiss individuals. Using specific memory tests such as the 24-hour word recall test, they have observed significant association of long-term memory performance with the single nucleotide base changes in the PRNP gene. One of the 5 nucleotide changes brings about a substitution of amino acid methionine to valine at position 129 in the protein. When genetic variation at this position in PRNP gene encodes two copies of methionine (homozygous 129MM state) or one copy each of methionine and valine (heterozygous 129MV state) in an individual, the tested subjects are able to recall 17 % more information than individuals with two copies encoding valine. It has been hypothesized that these molecular events in PRNP may lead to self-perpetuating conformational changes in the encoded protein, PrP, which in turn causes structural changes at nerve cell junctions. Previous studies published in the journal Science (Vol. 294. pp. 1030-1038) have shown that long-term memory is associated with synthesis of new proteins and molecular changes at junctions of nerve cells.
Dominique J.-F. de Quervain (Division of Psychiatry Research, University of Zurich, Switzerland)
Message posted by: Deepti Sharma
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