Microtubules in the Cerebral Cortex Role in Memory and Consciousness

Nancy J. Woolf

Summary. This chapter raises the question whether synaptic connections in the cerebral cortex are adequate in accounting for higher cognition, especially cognition involving multimodal processing. A recent and novel approach to brain mechanics is outlined, one that involves microtubules and microtubule-associated protein-2 (MAP2). In addition to effects on the neuronal membrane, neurotransmitters exert actions on microtubules. These neurotransmitter effects alter the MAP2 phospho-rylation state and rates of microtubule polymerization and transport. It is argued that these processes are important to the physical basis of memory and consciousness. In support of this argument, MAP2 is degraded with learning in discrete cortical modules. How this relates to synaptic change related to learning is unknown. The specific proposal is advanced that learning alters microtubules in the subsynaptic zone lying beneath the synapse, and that this forms the physical basis of long-term memory storage because microtubule networks determine the synapse strength by directing contacts with actin filaments and transport of synaptic proteins. It is argued that this is more probable than memory-related physical storage in the synapse itself. Comparisons to consciousness are made and it is concluded that there is a link between microtubules, memory and consciousness.

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