20th December 2011
Alzheimer’s sufferers may have hope for a cure with new research suggesting a memory boosting pill might soon be a reality.
Neuroscientists have identified a molecule in mice that when genetically suppressed, significantly boosts memory.
Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston say a ‘memory-enhancing drug’ that mimicked the effect in humans would be meant as a radical treatment for Alzheimer’s patients.
Memory boost: A ‘memory-enhancing drug’ that can suppress molecule PKR would be meant as a radical treatment for Alzheimer’s patients
The Vancouver Sun reports researchers, led by neuroscientist Mauro Costa-Mattioli, found that when suppressing the molecule called PKR in mice brains the immune molecule known as gamma interferon increases communication between neurons, in turn, improving memory and brain function.
PKR is an immune molecule previously known to act as a signal to the brain of viral infections.
Researchers injected an inhibitor into some of the mice’s stomachs, finding it worked to suppress PKR.
The rodents were then put through a series of behavioural tests to measure their memory and learning ability. They showed no increased signs of disease despite the inhibitor, he said.
Research: Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston conducted the study, led by neuroscientist Mauro Costa-Mattioli
Dr Costa-Mattioli described the findings tests in an interview with ScienceDaily: ‘For instance, when the authors assessed spatial memory through a test in which mice use visual cues for finding a hidden platform in a circular pool, they found that normal mice had to repeat the task multiple times over many days in order to remember the platform’s location.
‘By contrast,’ he said, ‘mice lacking PKR learned the task after only one training session.’
Dr Costa-Mattioli said their research also found this effect could be ‘mimicked’ by a PKR inhibitor, essentially enhancing memory and brain activity with a drug.
The success of the injections suggest an ingestible form of the memory-enhancing drug would likely work as well, he said.
Dr Costa-Mattioli said the team hopes to translate their research from mice to humans suffering from memory loss, conducting clinical trials with a more potent version of the drug.
In theory, a pill version of the drug could work on anyone to boost brain function. But that’s not the goal, he told the Sun.
‘Let’s say we’d compare with Viagra. People use Viagra at whatever age, let’s say 60, 65,’ he explained. ‘But someone (who) is 40 goes to buy it, they can get it. But this is not our goal… Our goal would be to treat people who have a memory problem.’