Just two cells to make memories last

Pair of neurons in fly's brain essential to storage and retrieval

Of the 100,000 nerve cells in the fruit fly brain, two have a special role in memory. Positioned on the front of the brain, one on each side, this duo of nerve cells (shown in pink) churns out proteins that are essential for fruit flies to form, store and retrieve long-term memories, Chun-Chao Chen of National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and colleagues report in the Feb. 10 Science. When the researchers prevented these two nerve cells from making proteins after a training session, the flies’ ability to remember an odor diminished. Surprisingly, these two large nerve cells, called the dorsal-anterior-lateral neurons, reside outside brain regions that are typically thought of as the fruit fly’s memory centers — L-shaped structures called the mushroom bodies (shown in green).

DUAL-CHANNEL MEMORY Two nerve cells (pink) in a fly’s brain are essential for long-term memory. Surprisingly, these cells lie outside the memory center of the fly’s brain, a structure called the mushroom body (green). Science/AAAS

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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