Scientists have reversed memory loss in a new study, which may be a breakthrough for brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. The researchers were able to retrain the nerve cells of snails by using training schedule techniques.
Another study conducted in 2012 first used this technique and this recent study expands on the findings. Sea snails, known as Aplysia californica, have similar cell properties as humans, although snails have a simple nervous system. The prior study noted increases in long term memory as a result of the strategy used to enhance memory.
Research scientist at the University of Texas Health Science Center Medical School, Yili Zhang, Ph.D., developed a model based on mathematics for the study. To determine when the snails' brain biochemical processes were primed for learning, the scientist used the model as a prediction tool.
"The logical follow-up question was whether you could use the same strategy to overcome a deficit in memory. Memory is due to a change in the strength of the connections among neurons. In many diseases associated with memory deficits, the change is blocked," said University of Texas Health Science Center's John "Jack" Byrne, Ph.D. Byrne is the study's senior author.
The team of researchers blocked activity of a memory-protein-producing gene in the sensory cells of the sea snails. Doing so simulated a brain disorder and impaired the strength of long-term memory.
The mathematical model was used to prescribe the chemicals that were to be applied to the cells, mimicking training sessions. Five training sessions later, the strength of the neuron connections responsible for long-term memory almost returned to normal.
"This methodology may apply to humans if we can identify the same biochemical processes in humans. Our results suggest a new strategy for treatments of cognitive impairment. Mathematical models might help design therapies that optimize the combination of training protocols with traditional drug treatments," Byrne said. Results of the study were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.