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Flatworms lose their heads but not their memories: Study finds memories stored outside the brain

Posted on August 14, 2013
Flatworms lose their heads but not their memories

Flatworms lose their heads but not their memories
Automated testing apparatus made it possible to track how quickly and for how long each flatworm overcame its aversion to the blue light in order to get food.

Tufts University biologists using new, automated training and testing techniques have found that planarian flatworms store memory outside their brains and, if their heads are removed, can apparently imprint these memories on their new brains during regeneration.

The work, published online in the Journal of Experimental Biology, can help unlock the secrets of how memories can be encoded in living tissues, noted Michael Levin, Ph.D., Vannevar Bush professor of biology at Tufts and senior author on the paper.

“As bioengineering and biomedicine advance, there’s a great need to better understand the dynamics of memory and the brain-body interface. For example, what will happen to stored memory if we replace big portions of aging brains with the progeny of fresh stem cells?” said Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology in Tufts’ School of Arts and Sciences.

Planaria have a remarkable capacity to quickly re-grow new body parts, and decades-old research on planarian learning had suggested that memory can survive brain regeneration. Difficulties inherent in complex and tedious manual worm training experiments contributed to planaria falling out of favor as a model for such research, but the new automated training system developed by the Tufts researchers may reverse that.

“We now have a reliable, state-of-the-art approach that moves beyond past controversies to identify quantitative, objective, high-throughput protocols for studying planarian long-term memory capabilities,” said Tal Shomrat, Ph.D., first author on the paper. A former postdoctoral associate with Levin, Shomrat is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “I believe that investigating this unique animal that displays relatively complex behavior and can regenerate its entire brain in only a few days will provide answers to the enigma of acquisition, storage and retrieval of memories,” he added.

 

Read more at: Phys.org

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