Scientists shed light on age-related memory loss and possible treatments

April 2, 2012

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have shown in animal models that the loss of memory that comes with aging is not necessarily a permanent thing.

In a new study published this week in an advance, online edition of the journal , Ron Davis, chair of the Department of at Scripps Florida, and Ayako Tonoki-Yamaguchi, a research associate in Davis's lab, took a close look at and memory traces in the brains of both young and old fruit flies.

What they found is that like other —from mice to humans—there is a defect that occurs in memory with aging. In the case of the fruit fly, the ability to form memories lasting a few hours (intermediate-term memory) is lost due to age-related impairment of the function of certain neurons. Intriguingly, the scientists found that stimulating those same neurons can reverse these age-related memory defects.

"This study shows that once the appropriate neurons are identified in people, in principle at least one could potentially develop drugs to hit those neurons and rescue those memories affected by the aging process," Davis said. "In addition, the biochemistry underlying memory formation in fruit flies is remarkably conserved with that in humans so that everything we learn about memory formation in flies is likely applicable to human memory and the disorders of human memory."

While no one really understands what is altered in the during the aging process, in the current study the scientists were able to use functional cellular imaging to monitor the changes in the fly's neuron activity before and after learning to view those changes.

"We are able to peer down into the fly brain and see changes in the brain," Davis said. "We found changes that appear to reflect how intermediate-term memory is encoded in these neurons."

Olfactory memory, which was used by the scientists, is the most widely studied form of memory in fruit flies—basically pairing an odor with a mild electric shock. These tactics produce short-term memories that persist for around half an hour, intermediate-term memory that lasts a few hours, and long-term memory that persists for days.

The team found that in aged animals, the signs of encoded memory were absent after a few hours. In that way, the scientists also learned exactly which neurons in the fly are altered by aging to produce intermediate-term memory impairment. This advance, Davis notes, should greatly help scientists understand how aging alters neuronal function.

Intriguingly, the scientists took the work a step further and stimulated these neurons to see if the memory could be rescued. To do this, the scientists placed either cold-activated or heat-activated ion channels in the known to become defective with aging and then used cold, or heat, to stimulate them. In both cases, the intermediate-term memory was successfully rescued.

Explore further: Scientists identify mechanism of long-term memory

More information: "Aging Impairs Intermediate-Term Behavioral Memory by Disrupting the Neuron Memory Trace," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Related Stories

Scientists identify mechanism of long-term memory

April 13, 2011
Using advanced imaging technology, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have identified a change in chemical influx into a specific set of neurons in the common fruit fly that is fundamental ...

Team isolates nerve cells involved in storing long term memory and gene proteins associated with them

February 10, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A research team in Taiwan has succeeded in isolating two nerve cells in fruit fly brains that are believed to be the major players in allowing for the formation of long term memories. Furthermore, they’ve ...

Sleep switch found in fruit flies

June 23, 2011
Rather than count sheep, drink warm milk or listen to soothing music, many insomniacs probably wish for a switch they could flick to put themselves to sleep.

Recommended for you

Scientists block evolution's molecular nerve pruning in rodents

July 27, 2017
Researchers investigating why some people suffer from motor disabilities report they may have dialed back evolution's clock a few ticks by blocking molecular pruning of sophisticated brain-to-limb nerve connections in maturing ...

In witnessing the brain's 'aha!' moment, scientists shed light on biology of consciousness

July 27, 2017
Columbia scientists have identified the brain's 'aha!' moment—that flash in time when you suddenly become aware of information, such as knowing the answer to a difficult question. Today's findings in humans, combined with ...

Social influences can override aggression in male mice, study shows

July 27, 2017
Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have identified a cluster of nerve cells in the male mouse's brain that, when activated, triggers territorial rage in a variety of situations. Activating the same cluster ...

Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project

July 27, 2017
A quest to analyze the unique features of individual human brains evolved into the so-called Midnight Scan Club, a group of scientists who had big ideas but almost no funding and little time to research the trillions of neural ...

Researchers reveal unusual chemistry of protein with role in neurodegenerative disorders

July 27, 2017
A common feature of neurodegenerative diseases is the formation of permanent tangles of insoluble proteins in cells. The beta-amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer's disease and the inclusion bodies in motor neurons ...

Mother's brain reward response to offspring reduced by substance addiction

July 27, 2017
Maternal addiction and its effects on children is a major public health problem, often leading to high rates of child abuse, neglect and foster care placement. In a study published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
not rated yet Apr 03, 2012
There are many traces (neuronal pathways) leading to Rome that will let you experience Rome again.

Rome=memories

The more paths the better - in case your 'gardeners' (Microglia) are to 'lazy', 'tired', or 'old'! to clean the 'thickets' from the paths.

:)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.