Public Release: 

Montreal researchers probe the genetic basis of memory

University of Montreal

Montréal, August 29, 2005 - A group of Montreal researchers has discovered that GCN2, a protein in cells that inhibits the conversion of new information into long-term memory, may be a master regulator of the switch from short-term to long-term memory. Their paper Translational control of hippocampal synaptic plasticity and memory by the eIF2a kinase GCN2, which was published in the August 25th issue of the journal Nature, provides the first genetic evidence that protein synthesis is critical for the regulation of memory formation.

This new discovery is the fruit of an international collaboration. The work of McGill researchers Nahum Sonenberg, Karim Nader, Wayne Sossin and Claudio Cuello, Jean-Claude Lacaille and Nabil Seidah of the Université de Montréal, and David Ron of New York University sheds light on the mysterious workings of the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

"Not all new information we acquire is stored as long-term memory," says Dr. Costa-Mattioli, a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Sonenberg, who spearheaded the research project. "For example, it takes most people a number of attempts to learn new things, such as memorizing a passage from a book. The first few times we may initially succeed in memorizing the passage, but the memory may not be stored completely in the brain and we will have to study the passage again."

In a series of experiments, the researchers demonstrated that mice bred without the GCN2 protein (known as transgenic mice) acquire new information that does not fade as easily as that of normal mice. This new information is more frequently converted into long-term memory. The researchers concluded that GCN2 may prevent new information from being stored in long-term memory.

Adds Dr.Jean-Claude Lacaille: "The process of switching to long-term memory in the brain requires both the activation of molecules that facilitate memory storage, and the silencing of proteins such as GCN2 that inhibit memory storage."

Although research on humans is still a distant possibility, the scientists believe their discovery may hold promise in the treatment of a variety of illnesses linked to memory. "The discovery of the role of GCN2 in long-term memory may help us develop targeted drugs designed to enhance memory in patients with memory loss due to illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, where protein synthesis and memory are impaired," concludes Dr. Karim Nader.


About Université de Montréal
Founded in 1878, the Université de Montréal counts 13 faculties and, along with its two affiliated schools, HEC Montréal and l'École Polytechnique, is Quebec's largest institution of higher learning, second in Canada, and among the most active in North America. With a faculty of 2,400 professors and researchers, the university has a student population of more than 55,000, offers more than 650 undergraduate and graduate programs and awards some 3,000 Master's and PhD degrees each year.

About McGill University
McGill University is Canada's leading research-intensive university and has earned an international reputation for scholarly achievement and scientific discovery. Founded in 1821, McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools which offer more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. McGill attracts renowned professors and researchers from around the world and top students from more than 150 countries, creating one of the most dynamic and diverse education environments in North America. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students. It is one of two Canadian members of the American Association of Universities. McGill's two campuses are located in Montreal, Canada.

Information : Sophie Langlois
Press Officer
Université de Montréal

Marilena Paolucci
Communications Officer
Université McGill
(514) 398-8585

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