Brain protein discovery may
                 herald 'memory pill'

                 By Steve Connor, Science Editor

                 19 January 2004
                 A pill to prevent people forgetting things has
                 come a step closer with the discovery of a
                 protein in the brain that stimulates nerve cell
                 Scientists believe that the protein chemical,
                 cypin, is involved in learning and memory
                 because of the role it plays in forming
                 connections between brain cells.
                 It may be possible to develop
                 memory-enhancing drugs that mimic the
                 protein's natural effect, or at least stimulate it
                 to work when something goes wrong, they said.
                 Cypin appears to be crucial for the growth of fine filaments between nerve
                 cells, which could explain how memories are formed, said Professor
                 Bonnie Firestein of Rutgers State University of New Jersey.
                 When nerve cells, or neurons, fail to form new branches it may lead to
                 debilitating conditions such as the gradual memory loss suffered by
                 Alzheimer's patients, Professor Firestein said.
                 "The identification of cypin and understanding how it works in the brain
                 opens up new avenues for the treatment of serious neurological
                 disorders," she said.
                 The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that the
                 cypin protein in the brain works as an enzyme in shaping neurons by the
                 process of branching.
                 "One end of a neuron looks like a tree and, in the hippocampus [a brain
                 region involved in memory], cypin controls the growth of its branches,"
                 Professor Firestein said. "An increase in the number of branches provides
                 additional sites where a neuron can receive information that it can pass
                 along, enhancing communication."
                 Cypin was first identified in humans in 1999, but only in the latest study
                 was it found to be present in the brain as an active enzyme - a molecule
                 that speeds up biological reactions.
                 Cypin works by glueing structural "building blocks" together inside the long
                 filaments, or dendrites, that grow out of neurons, the scientists discovered.
                 Researchers have previously shown that these dendrites and the
                 connections they make are crucial for making and storing memories.

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