A drug to help recover "lost" memories?

Edward Willett @ 08-05-2009

492px-Frederick_Leighton_-_MemoriesBack in 2007, researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, discovered that mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease regained long-term memories and the ability to learn when treated with a new type of experimental drug called a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor.

Now that same team, led by Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience, has pinpointed the gene involved. It’s called HDAC2. (Via EurekAlert.)

“This gene and its protein are promising targets for treating memory impairment,” Tsai said. “HDAC2 regulates the expression of a plethora of genes implicated in plasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to experience — and memory formation.

“It brings about long-lasting changes in how other genes are expressed, which is probably necessary to increase numbers of synapses and restructure neural circuits, thereby enhancing memory,” she said.

The researchers treated mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms using histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. HDACs are a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene expression. Drugs that inhibit HDACs are in experimental stages and are not available by prescription for use for Alzheimer’s.

As noted in the excerpt, HDAC inhibitors are experimental and not yet available by prescription for use for Alzheimer’s (they’re actually being tested in pre-clinical studies to treat Huntington’s disease, and some are already on the market to treat certain forms of cancer–they help chemotherapy drugs better reach their targets), but now that a specific target has been identified, more potent and safe drugs can be developed…which is what Tsai and her team will be focusing on next.

Of course, the focus is entirely medical at the moment, but if, as Tsai notes,

The fact that long-term memories can be recovered by elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory “loss” is really a reflection of inaccessible memories

then this also raises the intriguing possibility of memory enhancement drugs for non-medical purposes…law enforcement, entertainment, remembering a loved one…heck, even an actor returning to a role he hasn’t played in 20 years could benefit from a drug that helps access “lost” memories.

Hmmm. On the other hand, aren’t there things you really don’t want to remember? What if the drug forced everything you thought safely buried into the light?

There’s an SF story in there somewhere…

(Image: Memories by Frederick Leighton, via Wikimedia Commons.) 

[tags]memory,drugs,medicine,pharmaceuticals,brain,Alzheimer’s[/tags]

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