According to a recent study a process called synaptic plasticity could help us understand how the brain functions. The human brain contains trillions of connections called synapses (a bridge that connects neurons) whose pattern of activity controls all brain functions. These synaptic connections are dynamic in their properties. This process, known as synaptic plasticity, has been proposed as the cellular basis for learning and memory.
Changes in synaptic plasticity mechanisms are supposed to be responsible for mental disorders, such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease and several forms of mental disorders.
The study throws light on the information on the molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, and how this process may be employed to improve cerebral performance.
They find that synapses can be made more elastic by using a small protein fragment (peptide) derived from a neuronal protein involved in cell-to-cell communication. This can initiate the facilitation of synaptic plasticity.
In rats this peptide improved their ability to learn and improved their ability to retain spatial information.
”We have known for three decades that synaptic connections are not fixed from birth, but they respond to neuronal activity modifying their strength. Thus, outside stimuli will lead to the potentiation of some synapses and the weakening of others. It is precisely this code of ups and downs what allows the brain to store information and form memories during learning,” said one of the researchers.
Within this framework, these new findings demonstrate that synaptic plasticity mechanisms can be manipulated pharmacologically in adult mammals, with the aim of enhancing cognitive ability.