A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute and France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) has recently shown that the acetylcholine neurotransmitter plays a double role in learning and memory.
While prior studies had already demonstrated that adding acetlycholine to neuronal junctions during learning affects information reception and storage, subsequent testing of the cell's ability to retrieve the information produced inconsistent results. The findings ranged from significant or slight improvement following acetylcholine application, to the lack of any learning enhancement whatsoever.
In recent years, scientists throughout the world have tried to elucidate the reasons underlying these varying results. Now, a team of researchers headed by Drs. Ehud Ahissar of the Weizmann Institute's Department of Neurobiology and Daniel Shulz of the U.N.I.C. laboratory at the CNRS, have shown how acetylcholine is able to consistently enhance neuronal learning and information retrieval.
The secret, researchers found, is to control the level of acetylcholine at the neuronal junctions during both the 'ins' and 'outs' of information processing - specifically, during information reception and storage, as well as during its retrieval and implementation.
These findings, due to appear in the February 3rd issue of Nature, represent yet another step in unraveling the enigma of learning and memory embodied within the brain, as well as probing the causes of cognitive deficits observed in patients with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
This research was funded by the Abramson Family Foundation, USA.
The Weizmann Institute of Science is a major center of scientific research and graduate study located in Rehovot, Israel.