Do you ever forget where you put your keys, or have trouble remembering something important? As we age, it’s normal for our memory to decline a bit. However, scientists at the University of Cambridge and University of Leeds have made an exciting discovery that could help reverse age-related memory loss in people.
The scientists conducted a study on mice to understand how changes in the brain’s extracellular matrix, which is like scaffolding around nerve cells, lead to memory loss as we age. They found that a type of structure called a perineuronal net (PNN), which controls the level of plasticity in the brain, plays a role in age-related memory decline. PNNs contain compounds called chondroitin sulphates, which can either promote or inhibit neuroplasticity.
As we age, the balance of these compounds changes and leads to a decrease in our ability to learn and form new memories. However, the scientists discovered that by manipulating the chondroitin sulphate composition of the PNNs, they could restore neuroplasticity and alleviate age-related memory deficits in mice.
Using a “viral vector,” which is a virus capable of reconstituting the amount of chondroitin sulphates in the PNNs, the scientists treated the ageing mice and found that it completely restored their memory to a level similar to that of younger mice. They also identified a potential drug that could be taken orally to inhibit the formation of PNNs, which could help alleviate memory loss in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.
What’s exciting is that this mechanism should operate in humans, and the same treatment could potentially prevent humans from developing memory loss in old age. The scientists are hopeful that their discovery could lead to the development of treatments to prevent memory loss in people as they age.
The study was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Medical Research Council, European Research Council, and the Czech Science Foundation. While it is important to remember that this study was conducted on mice, the discovery has promising implications for future research in human neurological conditions.
University of Cambridge. “Scientists reverse age-related memory loss in mice.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 July 2021. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210722113052.htm