Press release

Researchers find new role for matrix molecule in memory

Once regarded as an inert scaffold or ‘glue’ the extracellular matrix - the molecules that surround and support animal cells - has been shown to have crucial roles in the function of organisms.

Now, an international team of researchers has identified a new role for an extracellular matrix molecule in memory and learning. Hyaluronic acid is a key part of the extracellular matrix. The team, co-led by Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow Professor Dmitri Rusakov from the University College London Institute of Neurology, looked at the role of this molecule in the activity of synapses in the brain. They studied slices of mouse and rat hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and learning. The researchers conclude that hyaluronic acid regulates a particular kind of calcium channel found in nerve cells, and so affects use-dependent changes in the strength of synaptic connections (plasticity) - in particular, long-term potentiation, a mechanism thought to underlie learning and memory. The researchers also showed that removing hyaluronic acid from the brains of mice impaired their ability to learn to fear a particular stimulus, further linking this molecule to memory and/or learning.