Our memories give birth to our expectations of the future; but what gives birth to memory? A group of MIT scientists led by Yingxi Lin claim to have discovered a master gene for memory encoding. The Npas4 gene is responsible for activating the genes that make memories stronger and more permanent (both synapse strength and connections between neurons). “This is a gene that can connect from experience to the eventual changing of the circuit,” says Lin.
The team found that Npas4 is heavily present in the CA3 region of the hippocampus in mice when they wandered to a part of a maze where they received a mild electric shock. The gene helped them remember to avoid that area. When the researchers removed the gene from that area of the hippocampus, the mice forgot which part of the maze was dangerous.
The ability to produce Npas4 in sufficient volume may have an effect on the study of learning and education in the future.