Reversing Alzheimer’s may be possible
Scientists try different methods to help mice retrieve lost memories
Mental stimulation and drug treatment may help people with brain ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease regain seemingly lost memories, according to research published on Sunday.
Scientists used two methods to reverse memory loss in mice with a condition like Alzheimer’s — placing them in sort of a rodent Disneyland to stimulate their brains, and also using a type of drug that encourages growth of brain nerve cells.Neuroscientist Li-Huei Tsai of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said such methods might yield similar benefits in people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia that rob them of their memory and ability to learn.
“We show, I believe, the first evidence that even if the brain suffered some very severe neurodegeneration and the individual exhibits very severe learning impairment and memory loss, there is still the possibility to improve learning ability and recover to a certain extent lost long-term memories,” Tsai said in a telephone interview.
Tsai said if apparently lost long-term memories could be retrieved, this suggested the memories had not been actually erased from the brain.
Instead, she and colleagues reported in the journal Nature, the memories probably remained in storage but could not be accessed or retrieved due to the brain damage.
The researchers used genetically engineered elderly mice in which they were able to activate a protein that triggered brain pathology very much like that of people with Alzheimer’s, with atrophy and loss of nerve cells.
Previous research has shown that regular mental stimulation such as reading or playing a musical instrument may reduce one’s risk for Alzheimer’s. And a stimulating environment also has been shown to improve learning in mice.
In one part of their study, the researchers took mice out of their usual bland cages and placed them in a sort of mouse playground loaded with an ever-changing assortment of colorful toys, treadmills and other mice.
The researchers previously had used a “fear-conditioning” test — placing mice in a chamber and delivering a mild electric shock to their feet — to establish an enduring memory.