Recent studies have shown that a protein called Arc helps to promote memory retention by regulating activity in our brains. Neurologists at the University of California San Francisco have looked in depth at the inner workings of brain synapses to map how this protein may help to prevent long-term memory loss. Synapses are specialized junctions that relay signals between brain cells. Most of our brain’s synapses are formed during early brain development, however they can be strengthened throughout our entire life. The more active a synapse is, the stronger it is. The stronger a synapse is, the better the brain will be able to develop and hold memories. At the same time, if the synapses in the brain become too active, this can lead to epileptic seizures. So a balance of activity is crucial in maintaining a healthy brain.
Arc protein builds up in the synapses of our brain when we learn new things. Through research, scientists have come to believe that this protein plays an important role in maintaining balance in the activity of the brain. Arc appears to strengthen synapses, allowing for long-term memory retention, without letting them become too active. One study focused on the learning and remembering capabilities of lab mice. Those mice that lacked the Arc protein had an easy time learning new tasks, but also an inability to remember what they had learned by the next day.
Scientists hope that this new information will help to develop a cure for a number of neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s and Autism. Many have come to believe that the lack of Arc protein in the hippocampus (memory center) of the brain cause disruptions in the activity balance functions of the brain. Furthermore, a common cause in mental retardation is the genetic disorder Fragile X, which has a direct impact on how the brain produces Arc protein.