May 24, 2018

Memory transferred between snails

15 May 2018, 07:43 | Lena Norman

RNA Moves a Memory From One Snail to Another

David Glanzman

In one of the most progressive memory studies to date, researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) have managed to transfer memories between sea snails, ScienceDaily reports. This research could lead to new ways to lessen the trauma of painful memories with RNA and to restore lost memories.

Professor David Glanzman, one of the authors from UCLA, told the BBC the result was "as though we transferred the memory". New research, computational neuroscience, theories and methods are also published.

However, speaking with The Guardian, Tomás Ryan, a studier of memory at Trinity College Dublin, is not exactly convinced that Glanzman and his team have demonstrated an ability to transfer what we consider a personal memory.

The marine snails or Aplysia Californica were given minor electric shocks by the scientists only after proper administration of the shocks. But through repeated shocks, the researchers trained them to curl for longer, up to about 50 seconds. The untrained snails that receive RNA from untrained donors showed no defensive response. Sticking electrodes in the snail's tail and shocking it makes this defensive response last longer, tens of seconds, and sometimes up to nearly a minute.

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The researchers trained one cohort of the molluscs to exhibit a defensive reflex when their tails were stimulated by mild electric shocks.

The researchers extracted RNA, which was accumulated in the nervous system of animals after the shocks, and not sensitized.

The non-sensitised snails injected with the RNA from the shocked animals behaved as if they had themselves received the tail shocks, displaying a defensive contraction of about 40 seconds. In the first case, the molecules were introduced in seven snails that have not undergone the procedure of impact shock. They had, in essence, transferred the fear of being shocked. The experiments should also be replicated in organisms other than snails, he says. Adding RNA from a marine snail that was not given the tail shocks did not produce this increased excitability in sensory neurons. They have been shown to be involved in long-term memory in snails, mice and rats, through their ability to influence chemical tags on DNA. In the 1940s, Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb proposed memories are made in the connections between neurons, called synapses, and stored as those connections grow stronger and more abundant.

"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", said Glanzman, who added that the marine snail is an excellent model for studying the brain and memory. This simple form of learning is known as "sensitization". Despite the fact that they only have around 20,000 neurons in comparison to the 100 billion in humans, the cellular and molecular processes in their brains appear to be very similar.

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