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Identification of a molecular memory switch and insights into time needed for decision-making

Identification of a molecular memory switch and insights into time needed for decision-making

Also this week MedZine brings you the latest medical news on various medical specialisms. In this editorial, we want to highlight two interesting neurological studies. The first study identifies a molecular memory switch in the brain. The other article tackles the question if it takes longer to make good decisions.

CASK as a key regulator in molecular memory switch

Our ability to learn and form memories is due to an increase in synaptic communication called Long Term Potentiation. This process starts with the entry of calcium into brain cells, which leads to the activation of calcium-responsive kinase (CaMKII). Activated by calcium CaMKII undergoes a change that enables it to maintain its activity even after the calcium is gone and this is called ‘the molecular memory switch’. Malik and colleagues investigated how this is functioning and identified the calcium/calmodulin-dependent serine protein kinase (CASK) as a key regulator of CaMKII. In the study published in Frontiers in Neural Circuits they found that if CASK is absent or not functional mid-term and long-term memory is impaired in fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). These mechanisms are well conserved and the researcher could replace the fruit fly CASK with the human version, indicating that this mechanism is well conserved. Therefore, CASK is a new target for therapeutic interventions to reverse the devastating effects of memory loss.

Do we make better decisions if we take more time to think about it?

It is commonly assumed that to make a good decision you need to take your time to think it over. However, this might not always be the case. This study by Zariwala and colleagues published in Neuron shows that rats that had to make decisions did this optimally in 300 milliseconds or less. Even if the researcher tried to make the rats take more time, the decisions the rats had to make about odors did not improve with more time. This suggests that perceptual decision-making shows only very limited speed-accuracy tradeoff. The researchers are now using this rat model to further investigate what is happening in the brain when intuitive decisions are made.

Source: Eurekalert, Neuron and Frontier in Neural Circuits

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