Neuroscientists are always studying ways the brain works that could lead them to discover new treatments for conditions that affect memory and other brain functions and disorders. Research has come to light that reveals some interesting proteins that play a large role in understanding connections that process learning and memory.
Research recently revealed may sound a bit like a Japanese sporting event, but the discovery could prove to be a real heavyweight winner when it comes to treat diseases like epilepsy and schizophrenia. The study, lead by Professor Jeremy Henley out of Bristol University and published online in Nature journal, links a small protein called SUMO, to a receptor — the kainite receptor, that can prevent information that makes the brain cells too excitable from getting through.
Our brains contain approximately 100 million nerve cells. Each of these cells has around 10,000 connections to other nerve cells. These connections (synapses) transmit information chemically that controls all functions of the brain through proteins called receptors. Neuroscientists believe this process is the basis of learning and memory.
Henley’s team found that when one type of receptor — the kainite receptor, receives a chemical signal a small protein called SUMO becomes attached to it. The SUMO protein pulls the kainite receptor from the synapse and prevents it from receiving information from other cells. This makes the brain cells less excitable. In disorders like epilepsy the synapse transmit too much information, and that results in over-excitement in the cells.
SUMO stands for Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier proteins, which are a family of small proteins that attach to and detach from other proteins in cells to modify their function. Healthy brains are able to modify how efficiently the synapses works, and increase or decrease the amount of information it transmits. “From the discovery that SUMO proteins can regulate the way brain cells communicate may provide insight into the causes of, and treatments for, brain diseases that are characterized by too much synaptic activity,” says Professor Henley. It could also help in the development of new potential targets for drug development in the treatment of brain disorders.
According to Professor Henley, “This work is important because it gives a new perspective and a deeper understanding of how the flow of information between cells in the brain is regulated. It is possible that increasing the amount of SUMO attached to kainate receptors — which would reduce communication between the cells — could be a way to treat epilepsy by preventing over-excitation.”
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.
Science Daily — SUMO Wrestling in the Brain: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070507133034.htm
Wikipedia — SUMO protein: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SUMO_protein