“Aliens” in your brain?!

Do you believe that “aliens” seized our brain and created our consciousness? This is not a plot of a science fiction movie or a joke. If we treat viral cells as “aliens,” it is quite possible that our brain and memory were formed by a protein #molecule that reproduces as a #virus. In other words, all living organisms are very lucky. But you can get more out of luck than you think.

Calculations of the brain connectome, namely, of all its structural elements, including neurons and synapses, show that the human nervous system has a theoretical capacity of a network equal to 1 petabyte of information, which is commensurate with the volume of several libraries of Lenin or the US Congress.

Of course, the brain capacity is not equivalent to the Internet network, but approximately 100 gigabytes are allocated for one-time data storage. At the moment, researchers are trying to understand how the brain can keep such a huge cumulative volume of all our sensations and knowledge in the long-term memory. Some success was made at the macro level of brain research, when the hypothesis of population coding of information by neurons was suggested. It turned out that complex forms of visual and auditory perception cause the activation of several brain regions simultaneously, the neurons of which work cooperatively within the so-called neural ensemble. Such ensembles, as shown later, are dynamic structures and are capable of development and recombination depending on the amount of learning and difficulty of the problem. However, despite some success, knowledge of the neurophysiological mechanisms of memory at the molecular level was not clarified. The processes of information preservation with the participation of neuropeptides have also remained unexplored until recently.

A recent paper, created within the framework of an international collaboration of scientists from the University of Utah, the University of Copenhagen and the Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology, found an unusual behavior of a protein called Arc associated with the corresponding Arc gene that regulates the activity of the cytoskeleton of brain cells (Activity Regulated Cytoskeleton Associated Protein). Previously, it was reported that the DNA work of the Arc gene is necessary for the process of memory consolidation and long-term storage of information in the brain of mammals, as well as increasing synaptic plasticity. Diseases associated with this gene include impaired metabolism of neurotransmitters and anterograde amnesia, including the inability to remember current events.

The researchers suggested the hypothesis that not only random mutations but also rational borrowing of genetic information by organisms from each other should be considered as a concomitant evolutionary development process. To test the theory, the researchers developed a series of experiments to see how the Arc protein works and to what extent it resembles a virus. They discovered that Arc creates several copies of itself and packages them into capsules that carry its own RNA strand inside. The capsules were then placed in petri dishes containing brain neurons of a mouse, and they observed how Arc was transferred from one cell to the new target cells. At the same time, the higher the observed level of neurons activation, the more capsules were released, which led to a domino effect.

In the cell culture under study, the protein activity was very similar to a viral one by the mechanism of transfer from one cell to another. It is known that the virus forms a capsule around its own genetic information (RNA strand) for its introduction into a healthy cell. This similarity led to the idea that a long time ago (400 million years ago), Gag retroviral proteins were embedded in the DNA of primitive amphibians and adapted to life within their hosts. The result of this symbiosis, on the one hand, allowed the viruses to receive the right to survive, and on the other hand, to perform functions useful for the organism — for example, to participate in the regulation of brain cell morphology, the organization of their internal structure and the migration to the place of function. Such mutually beneficial cooperation between cells is well known to scientists — for example, one of the cell organelles, called mitochondria, was also a separate cell millions of years ago, since it even has its own DNA. Once inside the multicellular organisms, it was recognized as useful and began to be actively cultivated, since it plays the role of the cell’s energy station.

As such, these ancient viruses don’t appear so hostile, meanwhile are still actively involved in the development of the brain of virtually all mammals, including humans. The influence they exert on the process of interneural communication cannot be overemphasized, because they help the brain to retain the most valuable memories long-term and to develop memory. Perhaps, the process of efficient information storage is based on the mechanism of the exchange between specific proteins and the intensification of neuronal activity observed when the brain is stimulated with a direct current. Numerous studies have extensively demonstrated the effects of memory improvement in patients with mental disorders and neurological syndromes. Basis Neuro offers its own solution for non-invasive electrical brain stimulation, which has a safe, direct impact on cognitive processes and mental health. The #neuralstimulator developed by our engineers has a confirmed clinical validation in the regulation of wakefulness and sleep, general well-being, and rehabilitation therapy after brain injuries and strokes.

The study was published in the Cell journal. www.ico.basisneuro.com