Recent findings published in eLife by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles indicate the possibility of reversing memory loss. This is good news for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia.
The research findings dispute previously held assumptions about long-term memory processes. Historically, it has been believed that long-term memory is stored in the synapses. However, by studying the memory and learning processes of the Aplysia snail, researchers now believe that long-term memory may actually be stored in the nuclei of the neuron. If true, then it could be that the nervous system is able to regenerate damaged synaptic connections, thus restoring long-term memory loss. Much more investigation is needed to confirm the researchers’ assumptions, but it offers the possibilities of new treatments, which if applied at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, could recover the patient’s long-term memory.
Using the Aplysia snail, researchers set out to understand how memory is formed and stored. They applied mild electric shocks to the snail’s tail, which resulted in an innate release of serotonin into the nervous system which is how the snail protects itself from being hurt. This serotonin resulted in new synaptic connections between motor and sensory neurons, a process key to long-term memory function. Scientists counted synapses before the electric shock applications to know how many were present before the training, thereby able to prove that additional serotonin related to memory was produced. Researchers found that by disrupting this process through the introduction of a protein synthesis inhibitor, the process of building new synaptic connections was disrupted, as well as the creation of long-term memories.
A very complex process was required to arrive at these new understandings of long-term memory processes but, according to lead author David Glanzman, the findings mean that as long as there are still healthy neurons there is hope for early stage Alzheimer’s patients to see their long-term memories restored.