Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Neuroscientists Boost Memory Using Genetics and Memory Enhancing Drug


When the activity of a molecule that is normally elevated during viral infections is inhibited in the brain, mice learn and remember better, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine reported in a recent article in the journal Cell.
“The molecule PKR (the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase) was originally described as a sensor of viral infections, but its function in the brain was totally unknown,” said Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, assistant professor of neuroscience at BCM and senior author of the paper.
“We found that when we genetically inhibit PKR, we increased the excitability of brain cells and enhanced learning and memory, in a variety of behavioral tests,” he said. 
“These data are totally unexpected, and show that two molecules classically known to play a role in viral infection and the immune response regulate the kind of brain activity that leads to the formation of long-term memory in the adult brain,” said Costa-Mattioli. 
Another key finding made by Costa-Mattioli and his team of researchers was the fact that this process could be mimicked by a PKR inhibitor – a small molecule that blocks PKR activity and thus acts as a “memory-enhancing drug.”
“It is indeed quite amazing that we can also enhance both memory and brain activity with a drug that specifically targets PKR”. Definitely then, the next step is to use what we have learned in mice and to try to improve brain function in people suffering from memory loss, said Costa-Mattioli.
Although Costa-Mattioli’s memory pill may be years away from approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, its impact on society and medicine could be very profound. 

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