They say that memory is one of the first things to go when you get older, but that saying might be going out the window if the scientific community has its way.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine and the University of Queensland has investigated how memories are formed. They found that adding a certain class of chemicals, called methyl groups, to RNA could potentially strengthen a person’s memory.
The process of adding methyl groups to RNA is called methylation, and it affects how the RNA functions within our cells. Normally, enzymes within cells reduce the level of methyl groups. However, after removing these inhibitive enzymes, the researchers found that memory formation in mice was improved.
For the purposes of the study, Timothy Bredy, an associate professor at UCI, and his colleagues searched the entire genome of mice to see where methylated RNA could be found in the brain tissue. They found extensive changes to one particular epigenetic mark, called N6-methlyadenosine (m6a), when new memories were created.
Epigenetic marks, or processes, are what link our genetic activity with the world around us, like when we learn something new.
The discovery of m6a has allowed the researchers to understand something about memory that they did not know before -- namely, that the formation of memories occurs on multiple genetic levels.
“Our findings show that memory processing is not just influenced by epigenetic control over our DNA but also occur at the level of RNA, variations in which act like a messenger in our cells,” said Bredy. “m6a shows enormous potential because the process can rapidly fine-tune our gene function and expression, which is often impaired in a variety of neurological disorders.”
While the discoveries are promising, the researchers admit that there is more work to be done before this new information can be validated. They say that their next step will be to test how memories are formed under various learning conditions, and determine how memory-related disorders and trauma affects this process.