We are pleased to inform about success of a team of scientists from the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology in Warsaw who has proved that the process of reward learning and memory involves a specific part of the brain: the central nucleus of the amygdala. The researchers who made this discovery include two beneficiaries of the Foundation for Polish Science: Ewelina Knapska, PhD hab. (programme KOLUMB) and Prof. Leszek Kaczmarek, PhD hab. (programmes: NOVUM, Nagroda FNP, TEAM). The results of the team’s research have been published in a leading scientific periodical, The Journal of Neuroscience.
Understanding the systemic, neuronal, and molecular foundations of learning and memory is one of the most important challenges neurobiology faces today. When memory is described, its dual nature is often distinguished; we speak of short-term and long-term memory, declarative and procedural memory, and also appetitive and aversive memory. The research conducted by the scientists from the Institute of Experimental Biology show that appetitive memory, which is reward-related memory, is located in the brain in the central nucleus of the amygdala (central amygdala, or CeAmy). Furthermore, the researchers also discovered the molecular mechanism specifically engaged in learning and appetitive but not aversive memory (aversive memory is memory of unpleasant experiences). They found that knocking out just one protein (MMP-9, matrixmetalloproteinase) impairs appetitive learning and memory but has no effect on aversive learning and memory.
The knowledge that the researchers gathered about MMP-9 indicates that this protein is of key importance for plastic changes, which means changes in nerve cells and in their connections in particular. Therefore the results of their research justify the hypothesis that traces of reward memory are gathered in the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeAmy).
The paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience combines two independent trends of research conducted at the Polish Academy of Science’s Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology since 2005 into a single cohesive whole. It provides an insight into the role of different elements from seemingly distant areas of neurobiology – systemic (CeAmy) and molecular (MMP-9) – in explaining learning and appetitive memory processes.
Our sincere congratulations!