Mnemons: Encoding memory by protein super-assembly
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© 2014 Caudron and Barral. Memory is mainly understood as the recollection of past events. The human brain and its simplest unit, the synapse, belong to the places in which such memories are physically stored. From an experimental point of view, memory can be tested in humans by recall. However, in other organisms, memory is reflected in its use by individuals to learn about and adapt their behavior to their environment. Under this criterion, even unicellular organisms are able to learn from their environments and show the ability to adapt their responses to repeating stimuli. This indicates that they are able to keep track of their histories and use these traces to elaborate adapted responses, making these traces akin to memory encodings. Understanding these phenomena may even help us to dissect part of the rather complex molecular orchestration happening in our synapses. When exposed unsuccessfully to mating pheromone, i.e. when mating does not happen, budding yeast cells become refractory to the mating signal. This refractory state is restricted to the mother cell and not inherited by the daughter cells, even though it is stable for most if not the entire life span of the mother cell. Interestingly, both stability and asymmetric segregation of the acquired state are explained by the molecular mechanism underlying its establishment, which shows important analogies and distinctions to prions. Here we discuss these similarities and differences.