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Neuroscience: RNA can transfer memory in sea slugs

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File:California sea hare (Aplysia californica).jpg
Aplysia californica (sea hare or sea slug)/NOAA

From Laurel Hamers at ScienceNews:

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Sluggish memories might be captured via RNA. The molecule, when taken from one sea slug and injected into another, appeared to transfer a rudimentary memory between the two, a new study suggests.

Most neuroscientists believe long-term memories are stored by strengthening connections between nerve cells in the brain (SN: 2/3/18, p. 22). But these results, reported May 14 in eNeuro, buoy a competing argument: that some types of RNA molecules, and not linkages between nerve cells, are key to long-term memory storage.

“It’s a very controversial idea,” admits study coauthor David Glanzman, a neuroscientist at UCLA. More.

Yes. Here is where replication studies earn their keep. If such studies are allowed, that is.

From Shivani Dave at the BBC:

Scientists extracted RNA from the nervous systems of the snails that received the shocks and injected it into a small number of marine snails that had not been sensitised in this way.

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.

They saw a similar effect when they did the same thing to sensory nerve cells being studied in petri dishes.More.

Of course, when we get to complex memories, which may be stored in different places in the brain, as in, say, a human being, it won’t likely be so simple, even if this pans out.

See also: Fable: More on what happened when one team tried publishing a failed replication paper in Nature. Nature decided that what they had done amounted to a mere “refutation” and that the replication researchers would be permitted to publish a short letter shorn of the data that was the whole point of the exercise. … If there is no fixed body of work that must be addressed by all contributors to a serious discussion, it might as well be a tweet war between celebs.

3 Replies to “Neuroscience: RNA can transfer memory in sea slugs

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    It’s possible that both mechanisms are involved. Changing the codes in RNA could lead neurons to send out a different pattern of neurotransmitters, which then fit into a different set of receptors, thus reinforcing a new set of synapses. In this scenario the RNA is the schematic for the wiring, and the synapses are the wiring which responds with the memory when appropriately triggered.

  2. 2
    jfd145 says:

    Maybe this is a different type of process but if this worked in humans or some other animals, wouldn’t it occur after a blood transfusion? That certainly transfers RNA.

  3. 3
    Allan Keith says:

    I remember reading about a similar observation with Planaria, a type of flat worm. Some were trained to run mazes to obtain a reward. These were fed to another group that had not been exposed to the maze. The ones that consumed the “trained” worms ran the maze faster than those who were not fed the “trained worms.

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