Brain Protein Is a Key to 'Senior Moments'
Age-related forgetfulness is caused by protein deficiency, scientists studying humans and mice say
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Further, the researchers found that when they reduced the amount of RbAp48 in young mice, those mice experienced the same memory loss that occurs naturally in aging mice. Once the protein returned to normal levels, the young mice's memory returned to normal.
But what really raised eyebrows occurred when they increased the amount of RbAp48 in the brains of older mice. "We were astonished that not only did this improve the mice's performance on the memory tests, but their performance was comparable to that of young mice," said co-author Dr. Elias Pavlopoulos, an associate research scientist at Columbia.
If these findings pan out, doctors may one day be able to use this genetic pathway to improve aging people's memory through natural or pharmaceutical means, Small said. Physical exercise, dietary supplements or pharmaceuticals could be used to increase RbAp48 in the hippocampus.
Dr. Nupur Ghoshal, an assistant professor of neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, agreed that this study gives researchers a new take on exploring age-related memory loss.
"Clinically, we've known that normal aging and Alzheimer's are different, but we didn't really have the thing to work on for normal aging," said Ghoshal, who was not involved with the study. "This is really the first evidence of a molecule someone can focus in on. Now we have a pathway we can learn a lot more about, and somewhere within that pathway may be a target for intervention."
Dean Hartley, the director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association, said the researchers "present an intriguing, preliminary study that may eventually prove to be important in uncovering the pathways of age-related memory decline."
And, he added, "They provide some very elegant molecular genetics to illustrate the mechanism in mice." However, the study's results are weakened because only eight human brains were examined, Hartley said, and the results in mice might not necessarily carry over directly to humans.
"Nevertheless, there is enough preliminary data here that this line of investigation should go forward, especially in light of what it may contribute to our knowledge of 'normal' aging and the environmental factors affecting gene regulation," Hartley said.