The Ins and Outs of Acetylcholine


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Dr. Ehud Ahissar. Acetylcholine's double role
Acetylcholine plays a double role in learning and memory, says a team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute and France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

Prior studies had demonstrated that adding this neurotransmitter to neuronal junctions during learning affects information reception and storage, but subsequent testing of the cell's ability to retrieve the information produced inconsistent results. The findings ranged from a significant or slight improvement following acetylcholine application, to the lack of any learning enhancement whatsoever.

These varying results have baffled scientists throughout the world. However, a team of researchers headed by Drs. Ehud Ahissar of the Weizmann Institute's Neurobiology Department and Daniel Shulz of the Laboratory of Integrative and Computational Neuroscience at CNRS may have solved the nervy riddle.

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. This control results in consistently enhanced neuronal learning and information retrieval.

Recently published in Nature, these findings represent yet another step toward understanding the enigma of learning and memory, as well as probing the causes of cognitive deficits observed in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
A boost of acetylcholine at the right time

Dr. Ehud Ahissar's research is supported by the Abramson Family Foundation, North Bethesda, Maryland.