Neurons communicate with one another by synaptic connections, where information is exchanged from one neuron to its neighbor. These connections are not static, but are continuously modulated in response to the ongoing activity or experience of the neuron.
This process, known as synaptic plasticity, is a fundamental mechanism for learning and memory in humans as in all animals. In fact, we now know that alterations in synaptic plasticity are responsible for memory impairment in cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.
An important aspect of this study is that it also describes how PTEN is recruited to synapses in response to beta-amyloid, and proposes a strategy to prevent it. Using a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease, the investigators developed a molecular tool to shield synapses from the recruitment of PTEN. With this tool, neurons are rendered resistant to beta-amyloid, and Alzheimer's mice preserve their memory.
Although this is basic research using animal models, these studies contribute to dissect the mechanisms that control our cognitive function, and orient us towards potential therapeutic avenues for mental diseases where these mechanisms are deficient.
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