Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

Study results show what happens in memory loss

Seeing Alzheimer's in our elderly loved ones is truly heartbreaking. A lot of us would hope that maybe we might be able to do something about it. Someday, maybe there is going to be a cure. But for now, we should just trust the future and be hopeful.

There is a new discovery which gives us a glimpse what happens in the natural process of long-term memory loss. This study may have the potential to manage memory loss in cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's.

The scientists in the University of Edinburgh in the UK spearheaded this research. Their work was published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Oliver Hardt, the senior author and from Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems states:

Our study looks at the biological processes that happen in the brain when we forget something."

The functions of our memories mainly revolve around acquisition, encoding, maintenance and retrieval. Forgetting is perceived as a major failure in any of these roles.

This time though, Dr. Hardt and his team discovered that memory loss is more than the failure to remember. The study suggests that active deletion might play a bigger role in this occurrence. Their findings may clarify the phenomenon why certain memories continue to exist, especially the ones involving traumatic or stressful events.

From the team's prior work, they depicted that when the memories are encoded, they are being sustained by signals between the brain cells. These signals use specialized signaling proteins and they are known as AMPA receptors.

Synapses are responsible for facilitating brain cell communication. The scientists explain that memories are stronger if there are more AMPA receptors on the synapses.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hardt's team found that AMPA receptors are actively removed by the brain cells. This means that the memory slowly fades as the number of AMPA receptors decrease.

The researchers tried an experiment that blocks the removal of the AMPA receptors. They say, "We found that blocking their synaptic removal after long-term memory formation extended the natural lifetime of several forms of memory." The research team hopes to continue further studies in order to look into the process of blocking AMPA removal and its effects especially in acquiring and retrieving memories.

Dr. Hardt concludes: "If we can understand how these memories are protected, it could one day lead to new therapies that stop or slow pathological memory loss."