A novel cysteine-rich neurotrophic factor in Aplysia facilitates growth, MAPK activation, and long-term synaptic facilitation.
Recent research in a variety of systems indicates that memory formation can involve the activation of a wide range of molecular cascades. In assessing this recent work it is clear that no single cascade is uniquely important for all forms of memory, nor is a single form of memory uniquely dependent on a single cascade. Rather, it appears that molecular networks are differentially engaged in the induction of various forms of memory. Despite this highly interactive array of possible cascades, specific 'molecular nodes' have emerged as critical regulatory points in memory formation. Functionally, these nodes can operate in two sequential steps, beginning with a convergence of inputs which coordinately influence the activation state of the node, in which the nature of stimulation determines the dynamics of nodal activity, followed by a divergence of substrate selection, in which the node serves as a gateway that activates specific downstream effectors. Finally, specific nodes can be differentially engaged (i.e. have different 'weights') depending upon the nature and pattern of the activating stimulus. The marine mollusk Aplysia has proven useful for a molecular analysis of memory formation. We will use this system to highlight some of the molecular strategies employed by the nervous system in the formation of memory for sensitization, and we will focus on extracellular signal-related kinase as a candidate node integral to these processes.