March 21, 2011

Now, where did I park the car again?

by Heather Falconer

The workings of the human brain, particularly memory storage, have been a fascination of scientists and laypeople alike for centuries. For many of us with spotty memories, improving retention has been a somewhat Holy Grail — we know there’s a way. There has to be. But what is it? What could we possibly do to increase our ability to remember?

In the March 17 issue of Nature, scientists from Duke University Medical Center help to answer this question. It’s about synapses in the brain and the length of time they occur. According to the authors, the length of the biochemical signaling process determines the strength of the connection in the brain, and leads to long-term memory storage. The researchers have found “a cascade of signaling molecules that allows a usually very brief signal to last for tens of minutes, providing the brain framework for stronger connections (synapses) that can summon a memory for a period of months or even years.”

This discovery is likely to have significant bearing on the research into Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and other conditions of the brain. For more information about the research, visit DukeHealth.org.

Heather Falconer

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Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.