A View from Emily Singer
Human Memory Gene Identified
The first study using the new generation of giant gene chips has uncovered a gene linked to short-term memory.
A gene known as Kibra plays a role in short-term memory, according to new research from the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the University of Zurich, in Switzerland. Researchers tested short-term memory in 351 Swiss young adults and then did a genome-wide scan of their DNA to identify genetic variants that were correlated to memory performance. Those with better short-term memory carried a version of the gene known as the T allele. According to brain-imaging studies, people without the T allele gene had more activity in the brain areas involved in memory, suggesting that they had to work harder on memory tests. While scientists don’t yet know the exact function of the gene, it may be involved in synaptic plasticity, a form of cellular learning. Researchers say they plan to use the findings to develop new treatments for cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Read the press release here or the related Science paper here (subscription required).
The study is the first published using the 500K Affymetrix chip, which can search for 500,000 genetic variations in a single experiment, drastically reducing the time it takes scientists to identify genes linked to different diseases or other characteristics. Studies using the chip to examine the genetic root of autism, Alzheimer’s, and obesity are already under way. (See “A Massive Search for Autism Genes Begins.”)