PerspectiveNeuroscience

Weakening synapses to cull memories

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Science  04 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6422, pp. 31-32
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw1675

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Summary

From correct answers on a school exam to a loved one's birthday, we have all forgotten things we wish we had not. The ability to forget, however, is a feature rather than a flaw of how our brains work. As the celebrated author Jorge Luis Borges wrote about a man incapable of forgetting, Funes the Memorious (1), “I suspect, however, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget differences, generalize, make abstractions.” Although Funes's example is literary, it contains a grain of truth. Neuroscientists have traditionally paid more attention to how the brain remembers than how it forgets, but there is increasing clarity about mechanisms and roles of forgetting (2, 3). By forgetting, we prioritize and separate the useful from the irrelevant and more easily reorganize information to learn (4). On page 44 of this issue, Awasthi et al. (5) show that the Ca2+-sensing protein synaptotagmin-3 (SYT3) is essential for synaptic weakening and link this molecular process to beneficial forgetting in mice.