Shape-shifting molecule aids memory in fruit flies | Science News

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Shape-shifting molecule aids memory in fruit flies

Prionlike protein Orb2 offers clues to mechanism for remembering

2:12pm, November 3, 2016

FEELING FLY  A protein called Orb2 may store fruit flies’ long-term memories, such as those that remind a male fly when its wing-waggling courtship is futile.

A protein that can switch shapes and accumulate inside brain cells helps fruit flies form and retrieve memories, a new study finds.


Such shape-shifting is the hallmark move of prions — proteins that can alternate between two forms and aggregate under certain conditions. In fruit flies’ brain cells, clumps of the prionlike protein called Orb2 stores long-lasting memories, report scientists from the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo. Figuring out how the brain forms and calls up memories may ultimately help scientists devise ways to restore that process in people with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.


The new finding, described online November 3 in Current Biology, is “absolutely superb,” says neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University. “It fills in a lot of missing pieces.”


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