April 12, 2013
The research group of Nagasaki University (Associate Professor Ryuichiro Atarashi et al., Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences) and Tokushima Bunri University has discovered that the prion protein, which is deeply involved in the pathology of prion disease, has an important function in the learning of motor skills.
The research group performed cerebellum-dependent “blink reflex conditioning” (see reference) on normal mice and prion protein knockout mice, and compared the difference in response. In the results, while about 70% of the normal mice began to close the eyelid just from hearing a sound, only about 30% of the prion protein knockout mice showed the response. Blink response conditioning is said to be strongly related to the learning of motor skills, and this research showed the likelihood that normal prion protein which is expressed at high levels in the mammalian nervous system, especially the cerebellum, plays an important role in learning motor skills.
Blink reflex conditioning: One type of classic conditioning, the phenomenon in which electrical stimulation of the eyelid after a sound is repeated and the eyelid will close just from hearing the sound (associative learning). The cerebellum and brain stem are essential to the acquisition and maintenance of associative learning, and it is known to show commonality across species in mice and humans.