Memory molecules show path to learning

2 Sep 2014

New insights into learning and memory formation and how this is impaired in Alzheimer’s disease may be possible thanks to a new method that visualises and identifies newly created proteins in the body.

QBI scientists at UQ led a multi-disciplinary study to develop the process that will now also be used to understand how memory is impaired in Alzheimer’s disease.

Study leader Professor Jürgen Götz, Director of the Clem Jones Centre for Ageing Dementia Research (CJCADR), said it has previously been impossible to determine how old the proteins in our bodies are.

“What we have developed can be applied to many cellular processes, including what happens in neurodegeneration and dementia,” Professor Götz said.

“A protein could have been newly created or 10 years old, and using conventional methods we were unable to determine its age,” he said.

“By creating a method of labelling new proteins as they are created in vivo – within the body – we are able to track those proteins, and this will give a valuable insight into understanding the role proteins play in learning and memory.”

While it is believed that proteins play a key role in learning and memory formation because their composition changes during these processes, their exact function and identity has remained a mystery.

By tagging newly synthesised proteins, the researchers are able to determine whether they are created in response to internal stimuli such as cell-to-cell communications, or external stimuli such as in controlled learning experiments.

“With this new method we are now able to determine which proteins are created in these processes,” Professor Götz said.

“It is important to understand how learning and memory occurs, because with research like this we hope someday to be able to create treatments that halt or reverse degeneration and the ensuing functional impairment.”

The study was run using the roundworm C. elegans, which is ideal for non-evasive in vivo research using fluorescent markers to visualise the newly synthesised proteins, and mass spectrometry to chemically identify them.

UQ collaborated with the University of Sydney and Macquarie University to perform the study.

The method is published in the Nature Protocols paper “Bio-orthogonal labeling as a tool to visualize and identify newly synthesized proteins in Caenorhabditis elegans”, and was used in a paper published in Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences.

Media: Darius Koreis, +61 7 3346 6353,; Professor Jürgen Götz, +61 7 3346 6329,