Researchers at Johns Hopkins, for the first time, have been able to look at changes in the brain as memories are formed with a receptor called AMPA. AMPA, like many other receptors, lives with proteins on the cell surface. Their job is to talk to each other and act as receivers and senders of information to help the cell work properly. In this instance, researchers were very interested in the conversation between AMPA and the protein Glutamate in genetically engineered mice. AMPA helps to strengthen the synapses, or connections between neurons.

New microscope technology made it possible for researchers to see stimulated AMPA receptors that would glow. The researchers tickled one whisker of the mouse. Tickling the whisker was enough to stimulate AMPA receptors and strengthen the synapses and had long term benefits in memory formation.

Before this technology, researchers were able to look at these connections only in cell culture. Now they can see the web of communication in the brain with messengers like hormones and neurochemicals, and perhaps even look at brain disorders like schizophrenia.

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