This shows DNA.
G4-DNA transiently accumulates in active neurons during learning. Credit: Neuroscience News

Novel DNA Mechanism in Memory Discovered

Summary: Researchers identified a novel mechanism that impacts memory formation through changes in DNA structure, specifically G-quadruplex DNA (G4-DNA). Their study reveals that G4-DNA accumulates in neurons, dynamically influencing gene activation and repression crucial for long-term memory.

By employing CRISPR technology, the team demonstrated that the DNA helicase DHX36 directly regulates these G4-DNA structures in the brain. This discovery not only changes our understanding of DNA’s role in memory but also opens new avenues for investigating memory-related disorders.

Key Facts:

  1. The study provides the first evidence of G4-DNA presence in neurons, highlighting its functional role in regulating memory-related gene expression.
  2. Researchers used advanced CRISPR-based gene editing to pinpoint how G4-DNA structures are regulated in the brain, finding a crucial role for the DNA helicase DHX36.
  3. The findings suggest that DNA structure, beyond just its sequence, plays a critical role in how experiences are encoded in the brain, potentially impacting treatments for memory-related conditions.

Source: Queensland Brain Institute

An international collaborative research team, including scientists from UQ’s Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), has discovered a novel mechanism underlying memory involving rapid changes in a specific DNA structure.

The team found that G-quadraplex DNA (G4-DNA) accumulates in neurons and dynamically controls the activation and repression of genes underlying long-term memory formation.

In addition, using advanced CRISPR-based gene editing technology, the team revealed the causal mechanism underlying the regulation of G4-DNA in the brain, which involves site-directed deposition of the DNA helicase, DHX36.

The new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, provides the first evidence that G4-DNA is present in neurons and functionally involved in the expression of different memory states.

The study, led by Dr. Paul Marshall at the Australian National University and QBI and a team of collaborators from Linköping University, Weizmann Institute of Science, and the University of California Irvine, highlights the role that dynamic DNA structures play in memory consolidation.

DNA flexibility

For decades, many scientists considered the topic of DNA to be solved. DNA is widely recognized as a right-handed double helix, with changes to this structure only occurring during DNA replication and transcription.

This structure contains two strands of nucleic acid featuring four bases: adenine (A) and thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C), which pair together to form rungs of the DNA ladder.

We now know that this is not the complete story. QBI’s Professor Tim Bredy explains that DNA can assume a variety of conformational states that are functionally important for cellular processes.

“DNA topology is much more dynamic than the static, right-hand double helix, as presumed by most researchers in the field,” said Professor Bredy.

“There are actually more than 20 different DNA structure states identified to date, each potentially serving a different role in the regulation of gene expression.”

In the new study, the team has now shown that a significant proportion of these structures are causally involved in the regulation of activity-dependent gene expression and required the formation of memory.

Although epigenetic modifications have a well-established association with neuronal plasticity and memory, to date, little is known about how local changes in DNA structure affect gene expression.

G4-DNA accumulates in cells when guanines fold into a stable four-stranded DNA structure. While there is evidence for the role that this structure plays in regulating transcription, prior to this study, its involvement in experience-dependent gene expression had not been explored.

G4-DNA regulates memory

G4-DNA transiently accumulates in active neurons during learning. The formation of this quadraplex structure takes place over milliseconds or minutes, at the same rate of neuronal transcription in response to an experience.

The G4-DNA structure can therefore be involved in both the enhanced and impairment of transcription in active neurons, based on their activity, to enable different memory states.

This mechanism highlights how DNA dynamically responds to experience and suggest that it has the capacity to store information not just in its code or epigenetically, but structurally too.

Extinguishing fear memories

The extinction of conditioned fear is a behavioral adaptation that is critical for survival. Fear extinction relies on forming new long-term memories with similar environmental elements, to compete with and take over the fear-related memory.

The formation of long-lasting extinction memories depends on coordinated changes in gene expression.

Professor Bredy said it is now evident that activity-induced gene expression underlying extinction is a tightly coordinated process.

“This process is dependent on temporal interactions between the transcriptional machinery and a variety of DNA structures, including G4-DNA, rather than being determined solely by DNA sequence or DNA modification as so often has been presumed.

“This discovery extends our understanding of how DNA functions as a highly dynamic transcriptional control device in learning and memory.”

About this genetics, learning, and memory research news

Author: Tim Bredy
Source: Queensland Brain Institute
Contact: Tim Bredy – Queensland Brain Institute
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
DNA G-Quadruplex Is a Transcriptional Control Device That Regulates Memory” by Tim Bredy et al. Journal of Neuroscience


DNA G-Quadruplex Is a Transcriptional Control Device That Regulates Memory

The conformational state of DNA fine-tunes the transcriptional rate and abundance of RNA.

Here, we report that G-quadruplex DNA (G4-DNA) accumulates in neurons, in an experience-dependent manner, and that this is required for the transient silencing and activation of genes that are critically involved in learning and memory in male C57/BL6 mice.

In addition, site-specific resolution of G4-DNA by dCas9-mediated deposition of the helicase DHX36 impairs fear extinction memory. Dynamic DNA structure states therefore represent a key molecular mechanism underlying memory consolidation.

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