Breakthrough discovery may lead to re-booting memories for Alzheimer patients

Scientists confirm memories are still there, and may be retrieved.

Breakthrough research on Alzheimer’s disease has indicated that the memories of the sufferers may not have been lost completely, offering hope of finding a way to retrieve them and eventually a cure for the condition, according to a statement from MIT.

A research team used genetically modified mice, with symptoms similar to that of a human with the disease, to conduct their experiments, which consisted of placing the mice in a box with a low electrical current running through the floor.  The current gave the mice an unpleasant, but not dangerous, shock.  After removal from the box, when the rodents were returned to the box, they remembered the experience and were frozen in place with anticipation of the shock.

The mice with the simulated Alzheimer’s did not remember the shock and were not afraid.  But, those same mice, when the scientists used a blue light to stimulate certain areas of their brains, recalled the experience and responded in a way similar to those not-treated mice.

“The important point is, this a proof of concept. That is, even if a memory seems to be gone, it is still there. It’s a matter of how to retrieve it,” says Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, in the statement from MIT.

Dheeraj Roy, an MIT graduate student and lead author on the study, said, “Short-term memory seems to be normal, on the order of hours. But for long-term memory, these early Alzheimer’s mice seem to be impaired.”  Roy adds the ability to remember these details is an “access problem.”

Rudolph Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was not directly involved in the research called the study “remarkable,” and said the research provided the first proof that the earliest deficit in Alzheimer’s involved retrieval of consolidated information.  He also called the implications for treatment for memory deficits “extremely exciting.”

The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.

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