A team of scientists have discovered that a lack of calcium during development leads to impaired memory later in life. The study is the first to show that calcium is needed for proper memory formation. The findings are in a paper just published in the journal Cell Reports.
Calcium is required for the formation of strong teeth and bones. The mineral has many other functions in the body, including roles in the mitochondrion. The mitochondrion provides energy to a cell and is critical to the cell’s survival. Calcium is used for many of the mitochondrion’s important processes, including metabolism.
A research team from The Scripps Research Institute in Florida studied developing fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). They blocked calcium channels in the mitochondria of the developing flies, completely preventing the entry of calcium. The team accomplished this by crippling the mitochondrial calcium uniporter protein, a protein that helps transport calcium ions into the mitochondrion. Once the fruit flies had developed into adults, the researchers compared them to a control group of unmodified flies. The team evaluated the flies’ performance in memory and learning tests.
The researchers found that the modified flies had no problems with the learning tests but showed signs of memory impairment. The flies that didn’t get proper amounts of calcium during development performed much worse than the control group on basic memory tests. Inhibiting calcium uptake in adult flies didn’t have the same effect; the lack of calcium in the mitochondrion only caused problems for developing flies.
The team’s findings show that calcium is required during development to facilitate proper adult memory formation. This may explain why human patients with mutations affecting mitochondrial calcium channels have decreased cognitive abilities. While this study used fruit flies, further research may provide new insights into human development. This could potentially lead to the development of treatments for certain human developmental disorders.
Ilaria Drago and Ronald L. Davis. Inhibiting the Mitochondrial Calcium Uniporter during Development Impairs Memory in Adult Drosophila. Cell Reports (2016).