Memory loss research by an international team led by a Bradford scientist has made a breakthrough that could lead to new dementia treatments.
The discovery has profound implications for understanding why some older people, including those living with dementia and those with neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, struggle in remembering recent facts and adapting new tasks.
The project was led by Dr Correa, who worked with Dr Angela M. Mabb from Georgia State University in the US and Dr Mark Wall from the University of Warwick.
Dr Correa explains that
The team linked it to how people with conditions such as Alzheimers can remember events from their childhood, but have difficulty remembering things that happened a short time ago.
Dr Correa gave the analogy of staying in a hotel for a couple of weeks.
After the first week, the manager changes your room but he won’t tell you where your new room is located. To find your new room, you would have to test your key in each door until it opened your door. However, once found, the next time you returned to the hotel, you would be able to locate your room more quickly using a series of spatial cues that could include which floor your room was on, how far your room was from the elevator, and whether it was located near a fire exit.
She said: “Imagine instead a situation where each time you returned to the hotel you had to keep trying the key in each room door to find your room. This inability to adjust your strategy to find the location of your new room is known as cognitive inflexibility and, as we age, this altered behaviour occurs more frequently. More importantly, this type of behaviour is observed during ageing and in some forms of neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.”
“Remarkably, this molecule is not implicated on the learning process itself, but rather on the reversal learning. As such these findings give us hope to develop specific therapeutic drugs aimed to delay deficits in reversal learning that is believed to cause the early loss of memory that occurs in ageing and neurodegenerative diseases.
“This research will most likely lead to something big. It shows how changes in this protein can alter the brain’s ability to put new information over old information.”
She said it would help develop medicines or treatments that can target the specific protein that leads to the memory loss symptoms, and could be especially useful for people in the early stages of conditions like Alzheimers.
Dr Correa said the University of Bradford had provided her with a lot of investment, adding: “I have had facilities since I joined the university that I have never had before. It is important that people see research and investment like this pays off. It gives it back to the community and helps deal with major medical and social problems. Things will get worse if we don’t deal with issues like memory loss.
“It is important for universities like Bradford to have research papers of this calibre published.”
Dr Angela Mabb of Georgia State University said: “It’s scary to think that the abnormal removal of one single protein in the brain can cause this type of altered behaviour. We are currently conducting new experiments in the lab to look at this more closely with the goal of identifying novel drug targets for neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, which are known to have cognitive inflexibility.”
The team believes it now has a robust model on which to base pre-clinical trials looking at how to target the relevant pathways to override the malfunctioning of the Arc protein.