The Structure of Memory

  • Published24 Feb 2014
  • Reviewed24 Feb 2014
  • Author Michael W. Richardson
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN
Dendritic spines.
Chao, et al. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013.
 

Memory, from your earliest thoughts to today’s grocery list, is a complex process necessary for cognition.  The ability to form long-term memories requires changes in the synapses — the structures neurons use to transmit information.

To better understand how these changes take place, scientists genetically altered mice to lack a molecule that supports the synapse. They found that neurons in mice without this molecule (pictured in white) compensate by generating larger dendritic spines — the visible bumps on the tree-like branches above — compared with normal mice (pictured in green). This small change improved memory in the mice.

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