Got Creb?

Previously posted on Annotate
February 2006

I live with a man who can easily dredge up the names of people who testified in the Watergate hearings, because he watched them on TV--when he was four. He can recite dialogue from movies he hasn’t seen since the early ‘80s. And he can tell you with absolute certainty that Admiral Ackbar, the fish-faced commander from Star Wars, was a member of the Mon Calamari species. I, on the other hand, have trouble remembering high school. I fear that if I don’t do something to staunch the flow of data pouring out of my head, he’ll spend the autumn of his life reminding me what my name is, while feeding me from a sippy cup. So, I have a special interest in “cyclic-AMP response element binding protein,” commonly known as CREB.

CREB is a brain protein that scientists believe may hold the key to long-term memory. In order to understand how CREB works, you need to know a little about the chemical reactions occurring in your brain on a daily basis.

It’s easiest to think of your brain as the guts of a computer and your conscious mind as the keyboard. Flicking the memory switch is the equivalent of pressing "Save." When you enter this command on a keyboard, it sends a combination of signals through a network of circuits in your computer. Your brain works in much the same way. When your mental "Save" is activated, it sets off a series of chemical reactions in a network of neurons. In healthy people, this process "trigger[s] a synthesis of proteins," required for memory formation. CREB is the binding protein--the glue that holds it all together. (New York Academy of Sciences)

When your body isn’t producing enough CREB, your long-term memory starts to deteriorate. Alzheimer's patients, for instance, suffer from a severe deficit of CREB. Neurologists believe that increasing the brain’s production of CREB may reverse memory loss. Based on this assumption, clinicians are racing to develop CREB-enhancement drugs. At the moment, 40 different drugs are in production. I await them with baited breath--as does Kate Moss, no doubt. (Female First)

Even if you aren’t in danger of sinking into premature dementia, there are reasons to be interested in CREB-promoters. A researcher at the University of Illinois have discovered that the brain protein is also linked to anxiety and alcoholism.

Psychiatrist Subhash Pandey recently designed a study to identify the function of CREB in rat’s brains. He found that chronically anxious rats suffered from shortage of CREB in the central amygdala. Further testing revealed that this deficiency was hereditary. But neurotic rats didn’t simply suffer in silence, they self-medicated--with alcohol. Pandey found that drinking suppressed fear in his high-strung subjects. Why? Because hitting the sauce increased their "levels of active CREB." To Pandey, this suggests that "genetically high anxiety levels are important in the promotion of higher alcohol consumption in humans." (Bright Surf)

As far as I know, the current crop of CREB-based drugs only targets memory loss. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they discovered that CREB-promoters had other applications. If recent findings about CREB prove credible, these drugs might be effective in combatting alcoholism and chronic anxiety, as well as memory loss.


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