Thanks to groundbreaking studies performed by researchers from Columbia University, scientists may be one step closer to understanding how memory function breaks down as people age. In a recent report published in Science Translational Medicine, a protein by the name of RbAp48 plays a significant role in how brains process, store, and retrieve memories.
In examining brains of people as young as 33, researchers found abundant levels of the RbAp48 protein in the hippocampus, a region the brain that is known to play a major role in the processing of memories. When they looked at older brains, however, the protein levels were extremely low.
They put their observations and hypotheses to test in lab mice. Mice whose protein levels had been decreased demonstrated greater difficulty with memory-related tasks like navigating mazes. But on the other side of the spectrum, older mice who received elevated levels of the protein were able to perform the memory tasks with a level of ease normally seen only in young mice. Researchers hope that such treatments will produce similar results in human brains as well.
For patients, the news raises hopes that there could one day be effective treatments for memory loss due to aging. In addition, such treatments can serve as an early-warning detection system for Alzheimer’s disease, which also impairs memory function in older patients, but through different neurological processes. In the meantime, doctors recommend a healthy diet and regular exercise, which is known to raise protein levels in the brain.
Thanks to jepoirrier for the image of a model brain.