Memories can last the entire lifetime of an organism. Dynamic communication among billions of neurons at synapses underlies information processing and enables the coding and storage of memory. Changes in synapse strength and structure through synaptic plasticity are widely speculated as the cellular basis of memory formation and storage. Studies have identified cellular signaling events and molecular rearrangements underlying the initiation of synaptic plasticity. However, considerably less is known regarding the molecular basis enabling synaptic strength and memories to persist for extended periods of time. While initial synaptic plasticity and long-term memory coding requires protein synthesis, following a period of consolidation, memory storage becomes independent of protein synthesis or neural activity, suggesting that the memory is stored in a remarkably stable molecular entity. During this time, however, most of the individual proteins that are known to make up the synapse will turnover, being degraded and replaced within hours to a few days. Therefore the question remains as to what physical substrates underlie the persistence of long-lasting memories. One possibility is that exceptionally long-lived proteins (LLPs) reside in synapses and act as molecular anchors to maintain the synaptic strength or a network property that defines a given memory. While previous studies have demonstrated the existence of LLPs in the central nervous system, particularly in the nuclei of non-dividing cells, no studies to date have addressed whether such proteins exist at synapses and contribute to the establishment and maintenance of long-term memories. To investigate this hypothesis we designed an unbiased, proteomics-based approach to identify LLPs resident in synapses and characterize their neuronal function. Stable isotope metabolic pulse-chase labeling will be used both in vivo and in vitro to measure the half-lives of the neuronal and synaptic proteomes. These experiments will further be combined with behavioral and pharmacological manipulations to examine how memory formation and neuronal activity influence protein turnover. Identified candidate proteins will be characterized using biochemical, cell-biological, electrophysiological, imaging and behavioral methodologies to determine how these LLPs contribute to synaptic/neuronal function and memory. Within the metabolically active environment of the cell it is known that proteins can undergo oxidative damage. Such damage to LLPs could be a source of vulnerability that may contribute to functional decline during aging. The experiments described in this proposal will significantly contribute to our understanding of LLP functions in the brain and their potential role in for memory formation, long-term storage and age-related cognitive decline.
While certain forms of memory can last for long periods of time, from months to years, synaptic proteins with established roles in memory formation and storage undergo constant turnover. This proposal seeks to identify the mechanisms underlying the persistence of long-lasting memories through identification and characterization of long-lived proteins that regulate synapse function. This research is particularly relevant to age-related cognitive decline because long-lived proteins may be a source of vulnerability during aging as they accumulate oxidative damage.