Memory mechanism

By • Published: August 15th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Forgetting is only natural.

No one needs to remember every song they’ve ever heard, or every word they’ve ever said.

So our brains discard unnecessary information.

Anyone who has ever stared blankly at an A-T-M machine, racking their brains for a PIN number, is painfully aware that even necessary information can slip under the cushions.

But scientists at the Buck Institute for Age Research were startled to find that a protein-splitting process that characterizes memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease actually occurs in younger people who don’t have the disease, sometimes at a rate ten times faster.

The protein-splitting leads to the formation of a sticky substance described as “brain plaque”… long thought to be the culprit in Alzheimer’s, an incurable neurodegenerative disease that affects five million Americans.

But it may be that the presence of these brain deposits… more formally known as amyloid [AM-ih-loyd] plaques… are actually normal and help brain cells communicate.

Researchers think a younger person’s brain is balanced by a biochemical process that makes new memories and discards old ones… while the weight in an Alzheimer’s brain comes down too heavily on the memory-loss side of the scale.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, indicates a molecular “switch” associated with the protein-splitting mechanism is stuck in a position where it destroys… rather than builds… memory in Alzheimer’s patients.

Researchers hope to find molecular ways to tip the scales toward memory retention.

If that happens, it will be a memorable moment indeed.