Study: Junk DNA Could Be Key to Extinguishing Fear-Related Memories

by johnsmith

Queensland Brain Institute’s Dr. Timothy Bredy and colleagues have discovered an experience-induced non-coding RNA, named ADRAM (activity-dependent lncRNA associated with memory), while investigating how the human genome responds to traumatic experiences.

This image shows subcellular localization of ADRAM (red) in primary cortical neurons. Scale bar – 20 μm. Image credit: Wei et al., doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110546.

“Until recently, scientists thought the majority of our genes were made up of junk DNA, which essentially didn’t do anything,” Dr. Bredy said.

“But when researchers began to explore these regions, they realized that most of the genome is active and transcribed.”

Using a powerful new sequencing approach, Dr. Bredy and co-authors identified 433 long non-coding RNAs from relatively unknown regions of the human genome.

“The technology is a really interesting way to zero in on sites within the genome that would otherwise be masked,” Dr. Bredy said.

“It’s like harnessing the power of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to peer into the unknown of the brain.”

The authors identified a non-coding RNA, named ADRAM, that not only acted as a scaffold for molecules inside the cell, but also helped coordinate the formation of fear-extinction memory.

Until now, there have been no studies devoted to understanding these genes, or how they might influence brain function in the context of learning and memory.

“Our findings suggest that long non-coding RNAs provide a bridge, linking dynamic environmental signals with the mechanisms that control the way our brains respond to fear,” Dr. Bredy said.

“With this new understanding of gene activity, we can now work towards developing tools to selectively target long non-coding RNAs in the brain that directly modify memory, and hopefully, develop a new therapy for PTSD and phobia.”

The study was published online this week in the journal Cell Reports.


Wei Wei et al. 2022. ADRAM is an experience-dependent long noncoding RNA that drives fear extinction through a direct interaction with the chaperone protein 14-3-3. Cell Reports 38 (12): 110546; doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.110546

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