A new study shows that the experimental drug bryostatin stimulates proteins needed to form long-term memories, an ability lost in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers found treating sea slugs with the drug days before a new learning activity significantly increased their long-term memory of the skill. Instead of remembering the skill for a few minutes as usual, they remembered it for weeks. These particular sea slugs, known as Hermissenda mollusks, have been used for many years in research about memory and learning.
Although it's a long way from sea slugs to humans, researchers say the finding may help shed new light on the underlying causes of Alzheimer's disease and lead to new treatments for the memory-robbing disease.
Researchers say protein synthesis is known to play a role in memory formation. Bryostatin may aid in the development of long-term memory by inducing synthesis of the proteins necessary to consolidate short-term memories into long-term ones.
Drug May Help Build Long-Term Memory
In the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers treated the sea slugs with bryostatin two days before training. In this case, researchers trained them to recognize that a stimulus (light) would be followed by shaking, eventually causing them to cling to the surface immediately after exposure to the light.
Under normal conditions, the snails lost this skill after about seven minutes. But after treatment with bryostatin, the snails remembered the stimulus for more than a week.
In another experiment, researchers found exposure to the drug increased protein synthesis in mammal nerve cells by up to 60% for more than three days.
Together, they say the results suggest that certain proteins may be necessary for the formation of long-term memories; treatments that stimulate synthesis or production of those proteins may lead to new treatments for Alzheimer's disease.