Scientists find clue to age-related memory loss
Published on 29 August 2013 12:00 PM
Scientists in the US have made a significant breakthrough in discovering what triggers age-related memory loss - possibly leading to new treatments for the condition.
The findings show that age-related memory loss is a different condition to pre-Alzheimer's and could one day be treatable.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center examined the brains of people of varying ages, who had passed away with no indication of neurologic disease.
It was found that a specific gene in a part of the brain's memory centre does not function effectively in older people, as it doesn't create enough of an important protein, RbAp48.
This area of the brain, the dentate gyrus, had already been considered particularly susceptible to ageing, although it is a different neural section to the one in which Alzheimer's forms.
The researchers tested the theory that a lack of RbAp48 leads to memory loss by studying mice, which also become forgetful in later life.
'It is the best evidence so far'
The scientists discovered that reducing levels of the protein in healthy young mice caused them to get lost in mazes and perform poorly in other memory tests, in the same way old mice do.
Importantly, they found the memory loss was reversible by giving the mice more of the protein.
Nobel laureate and study leader Dr Eric Kandel said 'it is the best evidence so far' that age-related memory loss is not comparable to early Alzheimer's.
Columbia neurologist and study author Dr Scott Small added: 'As we want to live longer and stay engaged in a cognitively complex world, I think even mild age-related memory decline is meaningful.
'It opens up a whole avenue of investigation to now try to identify interventions.'
Age UK charity director general Michelle Mitchell said the charity welcomed the distinction between age-related cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.
'A better understanding about how our cognitive abilities change as we get older is vital in order to ensure that people get the best advice and where available treatments. The key now is to find out more about why these changes occur and develop appropriate interventions,' she said.
‘Age UK funds research at the University of Edinburgh called The Disconnected Mind project, which aims to establish the key factors that affect how well or poorly people's thinking skills change as they age.
'The findings will be used to inform health and social care policy, provide advice on the mental health of older people and help to improve the diagnosis and treatment of age-related cognitive decline.'
Copyright Press Association 2013