Dendritic Spines Knowing Neurons

Keeping Memories Fresh by Keeping Glutamate In Check

We are another year older, perhaps a little wiser, and probably more forgetful.  Indeed, making memories is quite a process in the brain: specific synaptic connections are strengthened and new proteins are synthesized.  But as we age, the synapses that make up our memories, such as those in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, start to change and can be lost altogether.  The detrimental synaptic alterations may not be permanent, however, and maintaining the health of these synapses may be the key to preventing age-related cognitive decline.Continue reading

What a Coincidence!

Coincidence is a peculiar thing. We typically think of a coincidence as the occurrence of two events that happen to occur at the same time, but that have no underlying connection. We all experience coincidences throughout our lives, but rarely attribute any meaning or purpose to them. If, for example, your phone rings at the exact moment that you’re reaching for it, you may be amazed at the coincidence, but you realize that reaching for your phone is not what caused it to ring. Likewise, it is unlikely that the phone will ring the next time you reach for it. These coincidences occur all the time, and we typically brush them off as being completely insignificant. For the brain, however, coincidence carries much more meaning and has far greater significance.Continue reading

LTP: When Neurons Make a Long-term Commitment

A few months ago, I got a new smart phone that had a bigger screen and a different operating system. For a while, I was annoyed that I made so many typos when texting and emailing, but now I’m completely competent with my new phone! It even feels strange to use the old one. In neuroscience, an experience like this is called synaptic plasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to change as a result of experience.Continue reading

Brain Changes for Sculpted, Efficient Memory

While I was growing up, I remember my parents and teachers saying, “Your brain is like a sponge.” Of course, I didn’t understand what they meant, but as cliché as this statement is, it actually reveals a lot about children’s amazing abilities to absorb and remember impressive amounts of information. From new words and concepts, to detailed locations and even foul phrases, I learned to communicate using the complex rules of two languages during my childhood. I looked at the world with wonder, while adapting and making sense of it by remembering its complexities. But as I got older, I grew out of this ultra-powerful learning and memory, as most children do. What changes in our brains as we get older, and how do those changes affect our ability to learn?Continue reading