A difference in just one amino acid in a protein might explain why some people learn new motor skills faster and reach higher levels of performance.
The protein, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), is a key driver of synaptic plasticity, the ability of the connections between brain cells to change in strength. This plasticity is an important factor in learning, explains neurologist Janine Reis, who led the study at the National Institutes of Health. According to Reis, this finding offers the first evidence that slight variations in BDNF’s structure affect learning ability.
Other groups have found that the BDNF version that Reis linked with poorer acquisition of skills is associated with reduced function of the hippocampus, a brain region involved in motor learning.