Institution:SUNY Downstate Medical Center
Todd Sacktor, MD, SUNY Downstate Distinguished Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology, with Andre Fenton, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology (also now at New York University)
Sacktor and his research team have determined that an enzyme molecule called “protein kinase M zeta” preserves memories through long-term strengthening of synaptic connections between neurons. By inhibiting the enzyme, scientists were able to erase a memory that had been stored for one day, or even one month. After the erasure, the animal models could relearn and then remember normally, indicating that the inhibitor did not damage the brain or permanently disrupt memory function. Subsequent research has shown that PKMzeta is fundamental for storing many different forms of memory.
These findings may be useful for treatment of disorders characterized by the pathological over-strengthening of synaptic connections, such as neuropathic pain, phantom limb syndrome, and post-traumatic stress, and possibly even to lead to ability to selectively switch off memories of painful events. Conversely, the identification of the core molecular mechanism for memory storage may focus effort on the development of specific therapeutic agents that enhance memory persistence and prevent memory loss. Science magazine deemed Sacktor’s discovery one of the “Top 10 Science Breakthroughs of 2006.”
Molecule discovered in 1990; first reported in Proceeding’s of the National Academy of Science in 1993. Seminal paper in Science magazine in 2006. Research covered on front page of the New York Times, 2009. MERIT Award from NIH in 2012.