PODCAST: The Keepers of Memory

Todd Sacktor (Photo: Fred Conrad for the New York Times)

How does a constellation of neurons store a memory over time? Why do some memories degrade, while others always feel like they happened yesterday? Could this system of storage be selectively edited to enhance pleasurable memories and delete painful ones? (Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, based largely on this research).

In this edition of The Beautiful Brain Podcast, host Noah Hutton interviews Todd Sacktor, a leading researcher of the mechanisms of long-term memory storage—and deletion— in the brain. Sacktor’s research investigates the activity of a class of proteins which are very active around synapses— these are protein kinases, and they come in several varieties in the brain. They catalyze chemical reactions at the synapse, allowing a neuron to become more or less responsive to the electrical firing of its neighbor by aiding reactions that reshuffle neurotransmitter receptors.

These kinases were known to have a direct role in the molecular basis of memory—but perhaps never as directly as the work being done in Sacktor’s lab is showing (see the New York Times story on his work). Sacktor has identified one kinase in particular—called PKMzeta—which seems to be directly responsible for the maintenance of memory in the brain. When PKMzeta is found at a synapse, the memory encoded there is OK—it’s being maintained. When PKMzeta stops working at a synapse, the memory floats into the abyss of the brain, disassembled into its consituent cellular parts and extinguished from our recollection. In this edition of the podcast, Sacktor discusses his research and its implications on the way we understand memory storage in the brain. Total runtime: 26:22.


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About the author

Noah Hutton

Noah Hutton is a filmmaker based in New York.

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