Aging rats have had their memory loss reversed, thanks to a compound that helps them form new memories again. The compound could be a breakthrough treatment for Alzheimer's.
Essential to the creation and maintenance of memories is neurogenesis, in which new neurons are created and then wired into the brain's circuitry. This process occurs in the dentate gyrus, a key sector of the brain's memory hub in the hippocampus. Even in healthy brains, this is a difficult process, with only about 10% of these neurons surviving long enough to become a useful part of memory production. Alzheimer's disease, which is characterized by uncontrolled cell death, the survival rate drops to close to zero.
A recent study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center sought out compounds that could protect these vulnerable neurons from the ravages of Alzheimer's. Researchers tested 1000 different molecules on mice that had been engineered to lack a gene critical to the survival of new memory neurons. They found that one compound in particular, called P7C3, greatly reduced the death of these cells, toughening up their outer defenses and helping them maintain a higher energy level.
Encouraged by these results, they then gave P7C3 to elderly rats with memory problems. The rats who were given the compound enjoyed three times the rate of new neuron survival than their counterparts in the control group, and they massively outperformed their peers remembering their way through a water maze test.
Steven McKnight, one of the leaders of the research team, explains why these results are so exciting:
"This neuroprotective compound, called P7C3, holds special promise because of its medication-friendly properties. It can be taken orally, crosses the blood-brain barrier with long-lasting effects, and is safely tolerated by mice during many stages of development."
And P7C3 might not even be the best option. A derivative of the compound, dubbed A20, is even better at protecting memory neurons. In fact, it's 300 times more potent than another compound currently in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer's. The researchers are hoping to better understand the underlying mechanisms of both compounds in the hopes of finding even more potential treatments for the disease.