Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas have discovered that more than 100 genes are linked to memory processing in the brain. The discovery could lead to the development of new therapies for memory-associated conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and others, the study’s authors said.
The findings are reported in the article, “Human Genomic Signatures of Brain Oscillations During Memory Encoding,” in the journal Cerebral Cortex. They will help scientists understand the molecular mechanisms involved in the specific brain activity of memory.
“Our results have provided a lot of new entry points into understanding human memory,” Genevieve Konopka, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at the O’Donnell Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center and co-senior author of the study, said in a news release.
In previous studies, Konopka had linked specific genes to resting-state brain behavior. In this new study, her research team, in collaboration with Bradley Lega, MD, a neurosurgeon at the O’Donnell Brain Institute and co-senior author of the study, sought to identify genes that were specifically involved in active brain processing mechanisms.
“Our study is the first attempt to link memory-related brain oscillations to underlying gene expression in humans,” the authors wrote in the study.
The research team evaluated profiles of brain waves in 66 patients who underwent intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG) in an attempt to detect the source of epileptic seizures. Combined with techniques used by Konopka’s team, they identified specific patterns related to successful memory formation. Within those patterns, they identified 163 genes that were used differently during memory processing than during the brain’s resting state.
“These data are the first to identify correlations between gene expression and active human brain states as well as provide a molecular window into memory encoding oscillations in the human brain,” the authors wrote.
“Many of these genes were not previously linked to memory, but now any number of labs could study them and understand their basic function in the brain,” Konopka said.
Although these memory-associated gene patterns were found in epilepsy patients, the researchers believe they can be generalized to other disorders. Additional research focused on these genes could provide additional knowledge to further understand disorders in which memory impairment is hallmark, such as Alzheimer’s disease, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and others.