Saturated fatty acid levels increase when making memories
Saturated fatty acid levels unexpectedly rise in the brain during memory formation, according to research, opening a new avenue of investigation into how memories are made.

"We tested the most common fatty acids to see how their levels changed as new memories were formed in the brain," the investigator said. Unexpectedly, the changes of saturated fat levels in the brain cells were the most marked, especially that of myristic acid, which is found in coconut oil and butter.

"The brain is the fattiest organ in the body, being 60 percent fat, which provides energy, structure, and assists in passing messages between brain cells.

"Fatty acids are the building blocks of lipids or fats and are vital for communication between nerve cells because they help synaptic vesicles—microscopic sacs containing neurotransmitters—to fuse with the cell membrane and pass messages between the cells.

Researchers have found that fatty acid levels in the rat brain, particularly saturated fatty acids, increase as memories are formed, but when they used a drug to block learning and memory formation in rats, the fatty acid levels did not change.

The highest concentration of saturated fatty acids was found in the amygdala—the part of the brain involved in forming new memories specifically related to fear and strong emotions.

"This research has huge implications on our understanding of synaptic plasticity—the change that occurs at the junctions between neurons that allow them to communicate, learn and build memories," the professor said.

Nature Communications