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Mind Matters News: Our brains break DNA in order to learn more quickly


Breaking both strands of DNA in order to quickly form memories may be conventional brain behavior that works better for young people than older ones:

An interesting 2015 discovery sheds some light on memory issues:

“The urgency to remember a dangerous experience requires the brain to make a series of potentially dangerous moves: Neurons and other brain cells snap open their DNA in numerous locations — more than previously realized, according to a new study — to provide quick access to genetic instructions for the mechanisms of memory storage. – David Orenstein, “Memory-making Involves Extensive DNA Breaking” at MIT News (July 14, 2021) ”

Jordana Cepelowicz explains an “unsettling” discovery made by Li-Huei Tsai’s team at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory:

“… to express learning and memory genes more quickly, brain cells snap their DNA into pieces at many key points, and then rebuild their fractured genome later…

The discovery is all the more surprising because DNA double-strand breaks, in which both rails of the helical ladder get cut at the same position along the genome, are a particularly dangerous kind of genetic damage associated with cancer, neurodegeneration and aging. It’s more difficult for cells to repair double-strand breaks than other kinds of DNA damage because there isn’t an intact “template” left to guide the reattachment of the strands. – Jordana Cepelewicz, “To Learn More Quickly, Brain Cells Break Their DNA” at Quanta Magazine (August 30, 2021)

The unsettling part is that it is not a bug, it is a feature of our brains …

News, “Our brains break DNA in order to learn more quickly” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: Memory loss in old age may be easier to understand if we know more about the mechanisms our brains are using to keep key memories intact

You may also wish to read some other surprising facts about brain cells:

Study: The human brain and the universe are remarkably similar It looks as though the universe is not random but rather patterned in the way it unfolds. When an astrophysicist and a neurosurgeon compared notes, they were surprised by the way the brain follows the same pattern as the universe.

The human brain has given researchers a big surpise. Gray matter isn’t the big story. Connection—the connectome—is the astonishing feature of the brain. Mapping the “connectome” — all the connections in the brain—researchers expected a huge, random tangle. They found a street map.

Even the axons in our nerve cells are smart PCs Your brain is not a computer, it is billions of them. Contrary to expectations, researchers say, far-flung regions (thousands of cell body widths from their nucleus) can even make independent decisions. (February 15, 2019)


“What neuroscientists now know about how memories are born and die” Where, exactly are our memories? Are modern media destroying them? Could we erase them if we wanted to?

Umm, they first need to demonstrate there are genetic instructions for memory storage. No one has ever shown such a thing exists. And knowing what DNA does it doesn't seem like there is any genetic instructions for anything. DNA is just a template for itself and RNAs. DNA doesn't instruct the mRNAs how to get processed. It doesn't tell the polypeptide how to fold nor where to go once properly folded. So what genetic instructions are they imagining? ET
Seems like there's a purpose for this technique beyond just quick access. The neuron obviously knows in advance that the breakpoint is the gene it needs to express. It would be simpler and FASTER to just read and transcribe the gene and leave the DNA in place. The breaking seems to serve more of a bookmarking purpose, for reuse "several hours later". Obvious analogy: when you open a newly printed book to page 214 and hold it open, you bend the spine of the book. The next time you open it at random, it will open at p 214. polistra

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