Protein clumps like a prion, but proves crucial for long-term memory

Study in slugs hints that some molecular 'misbehavior' is for the good

5:32pm, February 4, 2010

Sea slugs make memories with a twist. Screwing a normal nerve cell protein into a distorted shape helps slugs, and possibly people, lock in memories, new research shows.

Notably, the shape change also brings a shift in the protein’s behavior, leading it to form clumps. That kind of behavior is the sort seen in prions, the misshapen, infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease, scrapie and other disorders (SN: 7/31/04, p. 67). But the new study, published February 5 in Cell, shows a possible normal function for the shape-shifting, suggesting that twists and clumps don’t necessarily make prions monsters.

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