Time-keeping brain protein influences memory

Upsetting the brain’s timekeeping can cause cognitive impairments, like when jetlag makes you feel foggy and forgetful. These impairments may stem from disrupting a protein that aligns the brain’s time-keeping mechanism to the correct time of day, according to new research in fruit flies published in JNeurosci.

The brain contains ‘clock’ neurons that mold circadian behaviors and link them to cues from the environment, like light and seasonal changes. In fruit flies, the clock releases the peptide Pigment-dispersing factor (PDF) to synchronize the activity of the clock neurons and drive time-based behaviors like mating and sleep. PDF may also underlie memory formation, explaining the cognitive dysfunction that occurs when the clock is desynchronized from the environment.

Flyer-Adams et al. tested how well fruit flies with a functioning core clock but lacking the PDF output signal could learn. Flies without PDF had severely impaired memory . However, memory regulation by PDF likely occurs without direct signaling to the main memory structure of flies.

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