Do you remember…

If someone asks to explain memory, most of us would say that it is the capacity to remember something, e.g. a phone number, vocabulary or the name of your boss’s pet. Comparable to this is metabolic transcriptional memory, which is present in every living organism. While yet understudied in humans, Dr. Poonam Bheda from the Institute of Functional Epigenetics uses the knowledge gained in microbes to discuss in a review article whether metabolic memory might play a role in disease progression in humans, e. g. of diabetes.

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The mind of every human person is filled with different types of memories. Some are stored in the short-term memory, some in the working memory and some things will never be forgotten, since they are long-term memories. For example, would you ever forget that your sibling wore your clothes without asking or the fun you had with your friends at your first rock concert? Memory is fundamental. If you remember a certain experience you can rethink it and react, e.g. lock your wardrobe door. Similar to this behaves “metabolic transcriptional memory”, but certainly on a different level.Metabolic transcriptional memory is part of the strategies, which enable organisms to encounter environmental fluctuations, including exposure to stress or chemicals, temperature changes or nutrient deficiency. Transcriptional memory occurs on the level of transcription – the fundamental process, in which the hereditary information stored in DNA is transferred to many transportable complementary RNA molecules required for protein production in every living organism. Transcriptional memory is essential and implicated in many biological processes. For example, the success of immunization against pathogens following a vaccination relies on it. Metabolic transcriptional memory is also critical for every organism and refers to the phenomena that changes in transcription can be present even after the inducing environmental stimulus is long gone or that the transcriptional response to the inducing stimulus is faster the next time.

In the review article, published recently in Molecular Metabolism, Dr. Poonam Bheda focuses on transcriptional memory that accompanies sugar metabolism. For example, metabolic memory is observed in the context of diabetes in humans. High blood sugar for longer periods can induce metabolic memory that is almost irreversible and can lead to manifestation of all diabetes-related effects. The review highlights the molecular mechanisms underlying metabolic memory and summarizes what is known so far regarding the role of chromatin modifications, protein inheritance, and the effects on the metabolic network. While the most well-studied cases are described in microbes, such as bacteria and yeast, the human metabolic transcriptional memory is rather understudied. Dr. Bheda uses the lessons learned from microbes to discuss the implications of metabolic memory in the progression of human widespread diseases, such as diabetes. Understanding metabolic transcriptional memory in humans is of general interest and opens up the promising option for understanding our disease tolerance as well as for the development of novel therapies.

The review article of Dr. Bheda is part of the special issue of Molecular Metabolism "Metabolism and Epigenetics", which will be available soon.

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