Friday, May 18, 2012

The Paradox Behind the PRKCA Gene

A guest-post by Phillip Moore

The PRKCA gene is a paradox of sorts in that it has been identified by European researchers to improve memory, but also to increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The magazine Nature just recently released a fascinating article that highlights the curse of possessing a good memory in certain traumatic situations. Let's examine the important details of this study conducted by Dominique de Quervain of the University of Basil in Switzerland and then explore future work that must be done to better understand the PRKCA gene.

Brief Details of 3-Part Study

Dominique de Quervain and his colleagues recruited 700 healthy young European volunteers in order to obtain their DNA samples to analyze the sequence of their PRKCA gene. This gene is just one of many known to impact our emotional memories. The researchers displayed emotionally disturbing images to the participants and then soon after asked them to write brief descriptions of the images. The participants either carried two copies of the A allele or two copies of the G allele, both of which are variants within the PRKCA gene. Those participants who carried two copies of the A allele remembered the most details about the traumatic images, while participants who carried two copies of the G allele remembered the least.

The researchers then recruited 394 other participants to perform the same task while undergoing brain imaging. The study also confirmed that variations in the PRKCA gene impact emotional memory. The brain imagine scans revealed that the A allele was affiliated with enhanced activity in the lateral and medial prefrontal cortex, both of which are regions involved in the encoding of memories.

Finally, the researchers explored the distribution of the A allele among the 347 survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who fled the civil war. This results of this study were consistent with the other two studies in that survivors who possessed two copies of the A allele were almost twice as likely to suffer from PTSD.

Moving Forward

The PRKCA gene is just one of many known to influence our emotional memories. It is important to examine the role that other genes play in shaping our memories. Massive genomic studies will likely reveal a multitude of other gene variants associated with the greater risk of developing PTSD. Also, more research must be done to understand exactly why the A allele leads to differences in brain activity during the process of memory encoding.

The research conducted by Dominique de Quervain and his colleagues really demonstrates that a good memory can be both a blessing and a curse.

Phillip Moore is an online instructor and coordinator for The College City. As a molecular biologist, Phillip was very interested in this European based study and wants to conduct his own research on the PRKCA gene.
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