An equation to remember

By By Natalie Hale

By Natalie Hale

Two U mathematicians have developed a series of equations that describe synapses in the brain.

Intended to help understand synapses in the brain on a molecular level, the equations were developed by Paul Bressloff, a professor of mathematics and member of the U’s Brain Institute, and Berton Earnshaw, a doctorate student in mathematics.

Synapses are intersections between neurons and the nerve cells in the brain. Scientists believe memories are retained using a number of different synapses, Bressloff said.

The project began six months ago when Bressloff saw a picture of a synapse in a state of flux and decided that it would be a good thing to model.

After spending six months tinkering with different equations, Bressloff and Earnshaw presented in their study what they believe are the correct ones.

“We were able to use simple calculus to describe the moving of proteins in and out of a synapse,” Bressloff said.

However, Bressloff said he knows the equations are subject to modification as more knowledge of the process is gained.

Memories are held in the brain because certain proteins within it act as anchoring mechanisms. These proteins hold others in place to strengthen synapses.

“The broader picture is to understand how we learn, remember and recall our memories,” Earnshaw said. “Although we are a long way away from understanding them, a lot of this research of these receptors could help map out these processes.”

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and was published Nov. 21 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Kim Peterson

Professor Paul Bressloff describes mathematic formulas that show the amount of time it takes for memory to become long-term.