MAR 09, 2020 6:03 AM PDT

Mobilizing the brain's immune cells boosts memory

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

A study by researchers at Australia’s RMIT University has uncovered a surprising connection between immune cells in the brain and their influence on memory.

These cells, called microglia, make up 10 to 15 percent of all cells found within the brain, acting as the first line of immune defense in the central nervous system. Though previously considered to solely support neuronal function, this is the first time that microglia have been directly linked to cognitive activity.

Published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, the study saw authors developing a unique model to study these complex neurological processes: training rats to perform simple memory tests and then observing any changes that occurred when their microglia were altered. 

Completely knocking out microglia in rat brains had no impact on their abilities to perform their memory tasks. Fascinatingly, however, when microglia were activated to promote their regeneration in the brain, this resulted in rats having up to a 50 percent improvement in memory compared to normal, untreated rats. 

Regenerating microglia share the same activated state as those dealing with neural inflammation, as in the case of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

"We are still exploring what makes these cells different when they repopulate the brain, but their shape tells us they may be more active than usual, potentially making the neurons more effective to encourage better memory," said lead author Associate Professor Sarah Spencer.

This memory-boosting effect is, however, only temporary. As soon as microglia reverted to their unactivated state, the memory improvement waned. The researchers are now interested in therapeutic strategies to boost the longevity of these supercharged cognitive capacities.

"The next stage in the research is closely investigating these regenerated microglia to better understand the mechanisms at work, with the aim of finding ways to turn the temporary memory boost into a long-lasting effect."

Over 50 million people are living with dementia globally, with 10 million new cases projected to be diagnosed annually. For that reason, the rapid translation of such research developments into clinical interventions to improve their quality of life could not come soon enough.

 


 

Sources: Science Daily, Journal of Neuroinflammation.

 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
NOV 26, 2019
Immunology
NOV 26, 2019
The Immune System's Hand in Toxic Shock
While rare, toxic shock is a dangerous condition that acts fast and can be fatal. A new study identified a new target for treating toxic shock, a component...
NOV 27, 2019
Immunology
NOV 27, 2019
Playing "Tag" with the Immune System
Human cells employ an intricate tagging system to manage protein activity in the body. By “tagging” a protein with a certain modification, cell...
NOV 28, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
NOV 28, 2019
Immunotherapy Drug Shows Promise for Treating Advanced Prostate Cancer
By the end of the year, an estimated 175,000 men in the United States will have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Now, researchers from the UK have foun...
JAN 24, 2020
Immunology
JAN 24, 2020
Immune "Recycling" Could Improve Cancer Immunotherapy
A natural housekeeping function performed by many cells of the human body, including those in the immune system, is under intense scrutiny for its potentia...
MAR 28, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
MAR 28, 2020
FDA Approves 5-Minute Coronavirus Test
In recent weeks, the US has struggled to supply enough tests to detect the coronavirus. Now, however, this may change thanks to the FDA’s approval of...
MAR 30, 2020
Neuroscience
MAR 30, 2020
In Quarantine? Studies Show Meditation Boosts Immune System
As the coronavirus pandemic has shut billions around the world under lockdown- two things have become key. The first of course, is to stay hygienic and avo...
Loading Comments...