UC Riverside researchers’ discovery of a relationship between a protein and short-term memory could lead to new treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. The link between the beta-arrestin protein to learning and memory functions has never been identified prior to this groundbreaking research.Professor Iryna M. Ethell and Crystal Pontrello, a postdoctoral researcher in Ethell’s lab, made the discovery while looking for links between proteins in the hippocampus and the mechanisms that allow for learning and memory.“We found that this protein, beta-arrestin, is modulating another protein in that area of the brain [the hippocampus] which affects learning and memory. We found that if you knock out that protein, or completely remove beta-arrestin, you have learning deficits in these mice,” said Crystal Pontrello in an interview with the Highlander.In Alzheimer’s Disease, there is deterioration of neuron connections which undermines one’s memory and ability to recall learned material. UC Riverside researchers found that by removing the protein beta-arrestin, the brain is protected against the neural connection loss; complete removal of the protein, however, would result in complete learning deficits, thereby shedding light on the need for a moderate ground. “Our work, done on mice, shows that if beta-arrestin is removed from neurons this loss of synapses is prevented. But we also know that beta-arrestin is required for normal learning and memory; so a fine balance needs to be established. This balance could be easily achieved by pharmaceutical drugs in the future,” stated Ethell in an article by UCR Today.
Pontrello, who has been involved with this study for over five years, said that her entire graduate school career was put into these findings that would form the basis of her dissertation. “ She was the driving force of the study,” stated Pontrello in regard to Ethell, who is Pontrello’s dissertation advisor. Other authors involved include UC Riverside’s Min-Yu Sun, Alice Lin, Todd A. Fiacco and Kathryn A. DeFea. The research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Although quite a few years away from helping patients with neurological disorders, the study results have paved the way for continued clinical studies.