In my opinion, one of the most interesting and applicable topics in lecture thus far has been Prof. Gewirtz's discussion of long term-potentiation (LTP). This is a cellular phenomenon described by the increase in the ability of one cell, through repeated stimulation, to activate another cell. There are two stages to this phenomenon; induction and maintenance. Induction is the repeated initiation of the stimuli on a nerve cell. Initially, the nerve cell elicits a response of a specific magnitude, but after repeated stimulation, this electrical response increases, often greatly. The second stage of LTP, maintenance, occurs when the response to the stimuli remains increased for long periods of time. Below is a simplified drawing of how LTP works:
Much research is still being done on the subject of long-term potentiation, and it is not entirely clear what changes in the brain take place to cause the increase in response. It has been shown that the dendritic spines of the nerve cells can change shape, or more can form as a result of this. Stimulation may also result in an increase in the number of excitatory receptors in the synapses.
I find this topic especially interesting because of its potential uses in the future. Through lab tests on animals, neuroscientists have been able to increase the effects of LTP in nerve cells, which has resulted in the enhancement of the formation of new memories. As you may imagine, this prospect has been very attractive to the scientific community in that it has the potential to aid in our understanding and treatment of Alzheimer's and chemical dependencies. This website outlines some of the practical implications LTP research may have for the future. I am hopeful that advances in this area of study may eventually lead to the curing of such diseases, and possibly even increasing the ability of our brains to form new memories. It would sure make studying easier!