Scientists from Tokyo Metropolitan University have discovered that Drosophila flies lose long-term memory (LTM) of a traumatic event when kept in the dark, the first confirmation of environmental light playing a role in LTM maintenance. The team also identified the specific molecular mechanism responsible for this effect. LTMs are notoriously difficult to erase; this work may lead to novel treatments for sufferers of trauma, perhaps even the erasure of life-altering traumatic memories.
It is impossible to remember everything that happens to us in a day. But a particularly shocking event may be consolidated into our long-term memory (LTM), whereby new proteins are synthesized and the neuronal circuits in our brain are modified. Such memories may be devastating to a victim, potentially triggering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Yet physiologically speaking, keeping a memory is far from a trivial process; active maintenance is required to keep the changes, protecting against the constant cellular rearrangement and renewal of a living organism. Despite the importance of understanding how memory works in the brain, the mechanism by which this occurs is not yet understood and is a key topic for neuroscience today.
It is well known that light, particularly the cycle of night and day, plays an important role in regulating animal physiology. Examples include circadian rhythm, mood and cognition. But how about long-term memory? Thus, a team led by Prof. Takaomi Sakai from Tokyo Metropolitan University set out to study how light exposure affects the memory of diurnal Drosophila fruit flies. As an instance of long-term memory or trauma, they used the courtship conditioning paradigm , where male flies are exposed to female flies which have already mated. Mated females are known to be unreceptive and exert a stress on male flies which fail to mate. Once the experience is committed to long-term memory, they no longer attempt to court female flies, even when the females around them are unmated. Related Stories
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