Of late, zinc has made its presence felt in the medical arena both as a helper and a threat, if present in excess. Now, extending the role of the former, scientists from the University of Toronto have revealed that zinc apparently plays a crucial role in controlling interactions among neurons and influences the formulation of memories and the learning process.
Experts in medicine have been trying to gauge the contribution of zinc in the brain for nearly 50 years now. They first spotted larger concentrations of zinc in synaptic vesicles that is a part of the neuron which conserves neurotransmitters. However, they could not precisely locate the function of zinc in the process.
In this research, the team created a chemical namely ZX1 that would integrate with zinc readily after it was expelled from the vesicles but prior to finishing its journey over the synapse. This chemical helped them view the responses of neurons when there was no zinc.
“As a chemist, I’m proud that I can make a contribution to neuroscience,” cited Xiao-an Zhang who helped design the chemical while conducting postdoctoral research in Stephen J. Lippard’s lab at MIT.
The analysts examined neurons in the hippocampus of the brain that is linked to memory and learning. They saw that eliminating zinc appeared to impede the process of long term potentiation which plays a critical role in memory and learning. The latter basically strengthens the link between 2 neurons. Zhang is presently trying to develop new contrast agents to be utilized in medical imaging.
This new analysis is published in the current issue of the journal, Neuron.