Losing a Gene Makes Mice Remember

ATLANTA, Sept. 17 (UPI) — Deleting a certain gene in mice can improve learning and memory by unlocking a mysterious area of the brain though to be inflexible, U.S. researchers say.

Scientists at Emory University’s School of Medicine say mice with a disabled RGS14 gene can remember objects they’d explored and learn to navigate mazes better than regular mice, a university release said Friday.

The study suggests RGS14′s presence limits some forms of learning and memory, researchers say.

John Hepler, professor of pharmacology at Emory, says he and his colleagues have been jokingly calling it the “Homer Simpson gene.”

The gene operates primarily in one particular part of the hippocampus, a region of the brain known for decades to be involved in consolidating new learning and forming new memories.

However, that region of the brain has not been extensively studied, and it’s not clear what its functions are, Hepler says.

Researchers say they believe RGS14 is a key control protein for signals in the brain known to be important for learning and memory.

“A big question this research raises is why would we, or mice, have a gene that makes us less smart — a Homer Simpson gene?” Hepler says. “I believe that we are not really seeing the full picture. RGS14 may be a key control gene in a part of the brain that, when missing or disabled, knocks brain signals important for learning and memory out of balance.”

While the lack of RGS14 doesn’t seem to hurt the altered mice, researchers say it is possible their brain functions have changed in a way scientists have not yet been able to spot.

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