According to a Rutgers University research article published in the Journal of Neuroscience, a cancer drug (RGFP966) helped rats in an animal study become more attuned to what they were hearing and better able to retain and remember information. The drug also appeared to help the rats develop new connections that allowed these memories to be transmitted between brain cells.
“Memory-making in neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease is often poor or absent altogether once a person is in the advanced stages of the disease,” said Kasia M. Bieszczad, PhD, lead author and assistant professor in Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University. “This drug could rescue the ability to make new memories that are rich in detail and content, even in the worst case scenarios.”
The authors report that with certain types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells shrink and die because the synapses that transfer information from one neuron to another are no longer strong and stable, and there is no therapeutic treatment available that reverses this situation. The drug being investigated in this animal study is among a class known as HDAC inhibitors, which are currently being used in cancer therapies to stop the activation of genes that turn normal cells into cancerous ones. The drug reportedly improves the plasticity of neurons, which helps improve connections and enhance memory.
The research team found that laboratory rats, taught to listen to a certain sound in order to receive a reward, and given the drug after training, remembered what they learned and responded correctly to the tone at a greater rate than those not given the drug. The team also found that the rodents were more “tuned in” to the relevant acoustic signals they heard during their training. The researchers believe this is important because it sets up the brain to better process and store significant sounds–critical to human speech and language.
“People learning to speak again after a disease or injury as well as those undergoing cochlear implantation to reverse previous deafness, may be helped by this type of therapeutic treatment in the future,” said Bieszczad. “The application could even extend to people with delayed language learning abilities or people trying to learn a second language.”
This hypersensitivity in processing auditory information enabled the neurons to reorganize and create new pathways – allowing more of the information to become a long-term memory, according to Bieszczad, who collaborated with colleagues in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California at Irvine.
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