Long-Term Memory Protein Linked to Psychiatric Disorders

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rap1aproteinNeuroscience researchers at Virginia Tech’s Carilion Research Institute have made a discovery that links schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to a brain protein pathway critical in the formation of long-term memories.

Rap1 is a protein pathway found in the brain, and it’s responsible for controlling the L-type calcium channels that assist in the formation of long-term memories. According to earlier neuroscience studies, changes in those same L-type channels are linked to some psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The Virginia Tech team’s discovery that the channels are regulated by Rap1 could be a major step in helping scientists understand the biological causes of these psychiatric conditions.

Neuroscientists already know that a solitary brain neuron can have thousands of synapses. Each of these individual synapses can grow, mutate, strengthen and ultimately die, in response to different electrical signals. Blocking the ion channels that allow neuronal information has been proven to inhibit long-term memory formation. But, until now, researchers had no idea how those L-type channels were controlled. The discovery of Rap1 and the link to the memory-creating proteins is the first step in understanding how a malfunction of those proteins affects a person’s mental health.

That’s because people with any genetic mutations that affect the L-type calcium channels have a much higher rate of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Knowing that there is a relationship between these psychiatric disorders and the calcium, neuroscience researchers will now be able to apply the discovery of Rap1’s role in the development – and eventual treatment – of the disorders.

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