Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center said their study of mice is the "first to identify the specific signal that establishes non-permanent cellular memory and reveals how the brain holds temporary information."
Assistant Professor Don Cooper, senior author, said the research has implications for addiction, attention disorders and stress-related memory loss.
"Researchers have known permanent memories are stored when the excitatory amino acid glutamate activates ion channels on nerve cells in the brain to reorganize and strengthen the cells' connections with one another," the scientists said, noting that the process takes too long to buffer, or temporarily hold, rapidly incoming information.
The researchers found rapid-fire inputs less than a second long initiate a cellular memory process in single cells lasting as long as a minute -- a process called metabotropic glutamate transmission.
"It's more like (random access memory) on a computer than memory stored on a disk," Cooper said. "The memory on the disk is more permanent and you can go back and access the same information repeatedly. RAM memory is rewritable temporary storage that allows multitasking."
The research appears in the February issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.