Washington: Researchers have been trying to pin down the role of zinc in the brain for more than 50 years, ever since scientists found high concentrations of the chemical in synaptic vesicles, a portion of the neuron that stores neurotransmitters.
Now, scientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), and colleagues at MIT and Duke University have found that zinc plays a key role in regulating how neurons communicate with one another, and could affect how memories form and how we learn.
Xiao-an Zhang, a chemistry professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), and colleagues at MIT and Duke University designed a chemical called ZX1 that would bind with zinc rapidly after it was released from the vesicles but before it could complete its journey across the synapse.
Using the chemical, they were able to observe how neurons behaved when deprived of zinc.
The researchers studied neurons in a brain region called the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory formation.
They found that removing zinc interfered with a process called long-term potentiation.
Long-term potentiation strengthens the connection between two neurons, and seems to be important for memory and learning.
The new research appears in the current issue of Neuron.