A study involving animals may have found a way to either prevent or reverse memory loss and cognitive impairment with a treatment involving a naturally occurring protein.
The findings, published in the February 8, 2009 issue of Nature Medicine, found the protein called brain-derived neurotophic factor (or BDNF) significantly improved the animals' performance in learning and memory tests. It also slowed the degenerating hippocampus, where short-term memory is processed, which is one of the first regions of the brain to fall victim to Alzheimer's.
"The effects of BDNF were potent.
When we administered BDNF to memory circuits in the brain, we directly stimulated their activity and prevented cell death from the underlying disease," Dr Mark Tuszynski, professor of neurosciences at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, said.
BDNF is normally produced throughout life in the entorhinal cortex, a portion of the brain that supports memory. However, its production decreases once Alzheimer's disease presents itself.
To test its effect on the brain, researchers injected the BDNF protein into aged rats and monkeys with varying degrees of cognitive degeneration. In each case, the injection of BDNF produced a vast improvement in the animal.