'Memory and molecular turnover,' 30 years after inception
Meagher, Richard B
MetadataShow full item record
Abstract In 1984 Sir Francis Crick hypothesized that memory is recorded in the brain as reversible modifications to DNA and protein, but acknowledged that most biomolecules turn over too rapidly to account for long-term memories. To accommodate this possible paradox he modeled an enzymatic mechanism to maintain modifications on hemi-modified multimeric symmetrical molecules. While studies on the turnover of chromatin modifications that may be involved in memory are in their infancy, an exploration of his model in the light of modern epigenetics produced somewhat surprising results. The molecular turnover rates for two classes of chromatin modifications believed to record and store durable memories were approximated from experiments using diverse approaches and were found to be remarkably short. The half-lives of DNA cytosine methylation and post-translationally modified nucleosomal histones are measured in hours and minutes, respectively, for a subset of sites on chromatin controlling gene expression. It appears likely that the turnover of DNA methylation in the brain and in neurons, in particular, is even more rapid than in other cell types and organs, perhaps accommodating neuronal plasticity, learning, and memory. The machinery responsible for the rapid turnover of DNA methylation and nucleosomal histone modifications is highly complex, partially redundant, and appears to act in a sequence specific manner. Molecular symmetry plays an important part in maintaining site-specific turnover, but its particular role in memory maintenance is unknown. Elucidating Crick's paradox, the contradiction between rapid molecular turnover of modified biomolecules and long-term memory storage, appears fundamental to understanding cognitive function and neurodegenerative disease.