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July

Molecular memories mark males from females

JULY 22, 2008

Professor Peter Giese, of the Institute of Psychiatry, with a team at the Medical Research Council have found that males and females have different ways of remembering things.The team found that, in a test, male mice learned to avoid a dangerous situation better than females.

In the task, the team placed mice in a chamber and attempted to train them to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. They subjected the animals to a mild electric shock to their feet while playing them an audio signal.

Compared with females, a higher proportion of males learned to physically freeze when they were returned to the chamber and then exposed to the sound signal, associating this environment and the tone with danger. This ability to learn was absent in genetically-engineered male mice – but not female mice – which lacked a certain brain protein involved in the regulation of memory genes.

In other tests there was no difference in learning performance, but there were different molecules in the brain being used to form the memories.

Professor Peter Giese, who led the study said, “There’s clear evidence now from our studies that at the molecular level there is a sex difference. Our science would suggest that males and females simply use different memory processes.”

This work will aid scientists studying memory-related diseases that affect the genders to different extents.

“We think that we have a window into understanding the molecular basis of sex differences in memory formation,” said Professor Giese

The protein, called CaMKK, may function abnormally in some brain diseases and cognitive disorders. This finding could help to understand why some brain diseases affect different proportions of women and men, such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and learning disabilities.
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