The researchers have identified a protein-RbAp48-that, when increased in aged wild-type mice, improves memory back to that of young wild-type mice. They have found that deficiency of a protein called RbAp48 in the hippocampus is a significant contributor to age-related memory loss and that this form of memory loss is reversible.
The study, conducted in postmortem human brain cells and in mice, also offers the strongest causal evidence that age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease are distinct conditions.
“Our study provides compelling evidence that age-related memory loss is a syndrome in its own right, apart from Alzheimer’s. In addition to the implications for the study, diagnosis, and treatment of memory disorders, these results have public health consequences,” said Dr. Kandel, who is University Professor & Kavli Professor of Brain Science, co-director of Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, and senior investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, at CUMC. Dr. Kandel received a share of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries related to the molecular basis of memory.
The current study was designed to look for more direct evidence that age-related memory loss differs from Alzheimer’s disease.
“The fact that we were able to reverse age-related memory loss in mice is very encouraging,” said Dr. Kandel. “Of course, it’s possible that other changes in the DG contribute to this form of memory loss. But at the very least, it shows that this protein is a major factor, and it speaks to the fact that age-related memory loss is due to a functional change in neurons of some sort. Unlike with Alzheimer’s, there is no significant loss of neurons.”
Finally, the study data suggest that RbAp48 protein mediates its effects, at least in part, through the PKA-CREB1-CBP pathway, which the team had found in earlier studies to be important for age-related memory loss in the mouse. According to the researchers, RbAp48 and the PKA-CREB1-CBP pathway are valid targets for therapeutic intervention. Agents that enhance this pathway have already been shown to improve age-related hippocampal dysfunction in rodents.
“Whether these compounds will work in humans is not known,” said Dr. Small. “But the broader point is that to develop effective interventions, you first have to find the right target. Now we have a good target, and with the mouse we’ve developed, we have a way to screen therapies that might be effective, be they pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, or physical and cognitive exercises.”
Source: Columbia University Medical Center, USA