WASHINGTON – U.S. researchers have identified a new protein in the brain that triggers age-related memory loss, a finding that may someday lead to new treatments to reverse it.
Using live lab mice and eight human brains that were donated for science, the team led by Nobel laureate Eric Kandel at Columbia University found that a gene called RbAp48 was linked to the kind of memory loss associated with aging.
The amount of protein the gene produced was almost 50 percent lower in old brains than in younger ones, said the study in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine.
The RbAp48 changes were the most significant seen among all the 17 genes that appeared to lead to age-related changes in a part of the hippocampus known as the dentate gyrus.
When the researchers took their findings to the lab for further study on transgenic mice set loose in a maze, they found that switching off the protein in younger mice made them forgetful, while increasing the protein in older mice boosted their memory.
“We were astonished to find out that this increase not only improved the memory of these mice but it led to younglike performance,” said co-author Elias Pavlopoulos. “The old mice performed as well as young mice.”
The findings provide the first molecular evidence of the difference between age-related memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers said. “Our studies support the idea that age-related memory loss is a disorder independent of AD,” the study said.
While the research is still in its early stages, scientists were hopeful that since the gene expression was detected in both mice and human brains, that a pathway to treating humans is a future possibility.