While you might sometimes find it annoying that you can't remember faces, names and details, forgetting is an important part of the brain if we're not to become cognitively overwhelmed. And, it turns out, the brain takes a very controlled approach to how it goes about it.
In fact, the processes involved in forgetting aren't particularly well understood, so the fact that scientists have now discovered a protein—called musashi—actively involved in the process of controlled memory loss a leap forward towards better understanding of what's going on.
The research, published in the journal Cell, explains how memory performance significantly increased in roundworms which were modified to lack the musashi protein compared to control samples. The authors believe this is perhaps the first time that forgetting has been shown to be an active, rather than passive, process.
In fact, it seems that the protein stops the body from producing molecules which usually stabilise synapses—the gaps between neurons which are involved in cementing memories. The study also identified a protein called adducin which, in contrast to musashi, stimulates the growth of synapses, helping form memories.
The researchers claim that it's the balance between these two competing proteins that determines if memories are held or not. It's a little early to say for sure what impact the research will have on humankind, but it's certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that a musashi suppressant could one day help treat conditions such as Alzheimer's. [Cell via Popular Science]