Consolidation of Memories—How it All Works

There has to be some physical action involved in memory storage. The consolidation of memories theory holds that a number of physical processes are involved and that one of them is LTP, a model of synaptic plasticity.

The molecular cascades that occur in brain cells trigger transcription factors that lead to changes in gene expression. The result is alteration of synaptic proteins, remodeling of existing synapses and growth of new ones. All together, these alterations are usually referred to as synaptic plasticity, the ability of the brain’s synapses to change over time. Instead of being hard and inflexible like bone or other structures, they are more like plastic. They can be molded. They are almost fluid.

The consolidation of memories theory holds that the molecular cascade process begins in a short period of time immediately after new material is learned, but the process can be disrupted. Drugs, antibodies and physical trauma are some of the things that can disrupt the process and prevent memories from being consolidated.

Disrupting The Process of Memory Consolidation

This part of the theory allows us to understand why drug use interferes with learning ability and why excessive alcohol intake can cause memory black-outs. The physical process of memory storage is disrupted by the effects of alcohol and other drugs, just like the control of motor functions and one’s ability to drive are impaired.

LTP is not only involved in the initial consolidation of memories. It is also involved in maintaining memories within brain regions and scientists believe it is involved in all types of learning. Studies conducted using animals and new studies of humans through the use of magnetic resonance imaging and other technologies support the scientists’ beliefs.

The systems form takes longer than the synaptic form. Not as much is known about the systems form for that reason. It can take weeks, months or even years for the systems consolidation of memories to be completed. It is currently impossible to study how this occurs.

New techniques may make it easier to see how the process works but it would require brain monitoring (so to speak) for lengthy periods of time. A monthly visit for an MRI would not be helpful. The memories could be consolidated at any time during the month. All that can be said is that there is some sort of timeline.

One of the time factors involved in the consolidation of memories has to do with protein synthesis. It takes some time for the body to manufacturer the proteins that will activate the molecular cascades.

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