Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a brain process that helps to strengthen information flow between synapses, helping to make this process faster and more efficient. When it goes wrong, it can lead to a number of neurological and neurodegenerative disorders. While we understand what LTP does, and most importantly, what happens when it goes astray, in a recent study, researchers uncovered something more important: how it is initiated. According to the researchers, this finding could have major implications for helping us better treat a number of cognitive disorders ranging from epilepsy to dementia.

In a new study published online in Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Bristol in England found a new type of LTP that is controlled by molecules called kainate receptors. While this finding may seem insignificant to the layman, it has wide-stretching potential that is likely to affect the health of someone you know. For example, according to the study, the finding highlights the flexibility in the way synapses are controlled and nerve cells communicate.

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Understanding new and different ways in which the brain works could open the door for new and different ways to treat its many disorders. Scientists could use this newly found pathway to develop therapeutic strategies for many diseases. According to the researchers, better understand of how memory, cognition, and the basic neural networks work mean that we can better understand what happens when they go wrong.

"This is certainly an extremely exciting discovery and something that could potentially impact the global population. We have discovered potential new drug targets that could help to cure the devastating consequences of dementias, such as Alzheimer's disease,” explained Dr Milos Petrovic, co-author of the study, in a recent statement.

While the findings are exciting, it could be a long time before they are translated into actual treatments. In the meantime, the best current approach to Alzheimer’s disease is early intervention. Identifying the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease helps to make this easier. According to the Alzheimer's Association, one of the earliest signs of the disease's’ onset is memory loss that may disrupt one’s day. The can include forgetting recently learned information, forgetting important dates or events or asking for the same information over and over. Challenges in planning or problem solving, difficulty completing familiar tasks, and confusion are also symptoms of neurodegenerative disease.

Source: Petrovic MM, Viana da Silva, Clement, et al. Metabotropic action of postsynaptic kainate receptors triggers hippocampal long-term potentiation. Nature Neuroscience . 2017

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