Memory in older adults and elderly begins to diminish and scientists previously have failed to understand why. A recent study at the University of Alabama uncovered a non-coding piece of RNA known as NEAT1 which plays a role in memory formation. Coding parts of RNA send messages throughout the cell as proteins while non-coding parts also hold instructions but they have never been completely understood. Scientists have found that “NEAT1 is a tissue-specific, non-coding RNA… most associated with learning and memory.” More specifically, it regulates memory formation.
Learning is more difficult when NEAT1 is active “but when presented with an outside learning experience, it turns off, allowing the brain to learn from the outside stimulus.” Researchers explain this similarly to how a car won’t move when the engine is on and the breaks are being used. It isn’t until the breaks are off that the car will move.
Doctors wondered if since NEAT1 plays a role in the formation of memories, perhaps they also interact with the decline of memory seen in adults and the elderly. NEAT1 interacts with a gene called c-FOS and their interactions increase with an aging brain, meaning that NEAT1 disrupts memory formation in aging brains.
In order to test this, researchers used tools to turn off NEAT1 in mice and “With NEAT1 off, the mice demonstrated normal abilities in learning and memory.” Another experiment showed that when the levels of NEAT1 were increased in younger mice, their ability to learn and form memories decreased.
This research is not only a huge breakthrough for the understanding of memory loss with increasing age but also a very big discovery for the impacts of non-coding RNA. I think it is impressive that scientists were able to find this specific section of RNA and were able to discover its association with memory. This information could play a key role in developing a medication to decrease memory loss. Perhaps in the years to come, CRISPR could remove this non-coding area of RNA all together, fixing the problem of memory loss.