February 13th to 17th is the University of British Columbia’s Reading Week and we here at the SCQ are following suit with a title page each day this week that will both impress and amaze you. First up, the braniac mouse…

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Genetic enhancement of learning and memory in mice (pdf). (1999) Nature 401:p63

In which mankind inches closer to the production of mice that can appreciate but not necessarily enjoy Jane Austen literature.

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ABSTRACT: Hebb’s rule (1949) states that learning and memory are based on modifications of synaptic strength among neurons that are simultaneously active. This implies that enhanced synaptic coincidence detection would lead to better learning and memory. If the NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor, a synaptic coincidence detector, acts as a graded switch for memory formation, enhanced signal detection by NMDA receptors should enhance learning and memory. Here we show that overexpression of NMDA receptor 2B (NR2B) in the forebrains of transgenic mice leads to enhanced activation of NMDA receptors, facilitating synaptic potentiation in response to stimulation at 10-100 Hz. These mice exhibit superior ability in learning and memory in various behavioural tasks, showing that NR2B is critical in gating the age-dependent threshold for plasticity and memory formation. NMDA-receptor-dependent modifications of synaptic efficacy, therefore, represent a unifying mechanism for associative learning and memory. Our results suggest that genetic enhancement of mental and cognitive attributes such as intelligence and memory in mammals is feasible.