One of the most unforgiving diseases on the planet, Alzheimer’s causes you to slowly but surely forget everything you know, eventually having you wither away and die. Even more horribly, your loved ones will be helpless to do anything as you start forgetting who they are, only to have you occasionally remember them during one of your very few good days.
And the even uglier part is that so far we’re nowhere near close to finding a cure, or even a treatment. If you happen to suffer from the disease, the best you can do is participate in studies so that you potentially help someone find some insight into the conditions. Bottom line, things haven’t ever looked good for Alzheimer’s patients.
So far, it wasn’t known exactly how the disease works, and the answer still isn’t clear. But on the other hand, researchers might have finally gotten some insight into how it affects memories. According to a new study from MIT, memories lost in early Alzheimer’s may be retrievable.
Finally managing to identify the neurons that hold onto engrams (traces of the neural pathways taken by memories as they settle), the MIT researchers performed an experiment on mice proving that stimulation of those particular neurons (DG neurons) can bring back memories lost in early stage of the disease.
For the study, the team taught a number of mice to be afraid of a blue light in a box. By placing them in a confined space and shining a blue light right before administering a small shock to the rodents, the scientists taught some mice genetically modified to resemble Alzheimer’s symptoms to be afraid of the light.
The next day, the modified mice had forgotten that they were afraid of the light, while the mice in the control group didn’t. By stimulating the area in the mice’s brains where the DG neurons are located, the researchers managed to restore the rodents’ memories, as they remembered once more to fear the blue light.
Not yet, though
Despite the apparent huge breakthrough, we’re not out of the woods yet. There are multiple limitations to the study, none of them actually being attributed to the researchers or to the methodology this time. But still, that doesn’t mean that the study didn’t give us never before seen insight into memory storage.
The first and most important limitation is that the study was done on mice. It is yet unknown how differently the disease acts in rodents, so further studies have to be performed on the matter. Second of all, the mice were genetically engineered to simulate early Alzheimer’s symptoms, so it is still unknown whether the technique would work on more advanced forms of the disease.
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