2008 News Articles-Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Assistant Professor Alison Barth and Other Researchers Identify Novel Mechanism for Long-Term Learning

January 3, 2008

Assistant Professor Alison Barth and Other Researchers Identify Novel Mechanism for Long-Term LearningPractice makes perfect - or at least that's what we're told as we struggle through endless rounds of multiplication tables, goal kicks and piano scales - and it seems, based on the personal experience of many, to be true. That's why neuroscientists have been perplexed by data showing that at the level of individual synapses, or connections between neurons, increased, repetitive stimulation might actually reverse early gains in synaptic strength. Now, neuroscientists from Carnegie Mellon University and the Max Planck Institute have discovered the mechanism that resolves this apparent paradox. The findings are published in the Jan. 4 issue of Science.

The mechanism further explains how brain synapses strengthen in response to new experiences. Previous research by Carnegie Mellon researcher and lead author of the study Alison Barth has shown that there is a connection between synaptic plasticity, or changes, and learning and memory. However, little was known about the mechanisms that underlie learning that occurs over longer timeframes, with continuing training or practice.

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