MAY 29, 2015 9:17 AM PDT

Good News for Alzheimer's and TBI: Light Activates Memories Lost to Amnesia

WRITTEN BY: Will Hector
One of the bigger questions in the field of neuroscience has been whether the amnesia that results from Alzheimer's or traumatic brain injury is caused by damage to brain cells storing memories or by damage to the mechanisms of memory retrieval.

Either way, memory loss is a frightening prospect since it's a major component to one's identity. Luckily, answering the question-and potentially solving the problem of memory loss-just got a lot easier. A groundbreaking paper provides strong evidence pointing to damaged memory retrieval mechanisms as the culprit in this type of retrograde memory loss.
Optogenetics procedures use light to activate the memory retreival mechanism in the brain.
Memory is a tricky thing conceptually, as anyone who's ever discovered that details of a shared memory don't match those of a friend or family member can attest. Neurologically it gets even trickier. That's why this discovery offers so much potential.

Susumu Tonegawa, who directed the research from his post as the Picower Professor in MIT's Department of Biology and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, summed up the findings succinctly: "Amnesia is a problem of retrieval impairment."

Prior to the discovery by MIT researchers, the prevailing theory on memory has been that during the process of having a memory, physical or chemical changes activate a network of neurons known as memory engram cells. If these cells get activated, for example by an odor or a photograph, a constellation of neurons responds to provide a particular memory.

The paper, published in the journal Science, describes how researchers used a light technology called optogenetics to restore memories that were irretrievable prior to the treatment. The process involved adding proteins-which could be activated with light-to the relevant neurons in the hippocampus.

The researchers then used the optogenetic process to activate memory engram cells, which in turn were able to express a memory. But the experiment also showed the synapses connecting these cells had been strengthened by the process, or in Tonegawa's words, had "undergone this augmentation of synaptic strength."

The researchers had used anisomycin to block the synapses from strengthening-essentially blocking memory-before recovering memory function using the optogenetic procedure.

"If you test memory recall with natural recall triggers in an anisomycin-treated animal, it will be amnesiac, you cannot induce memory recall," Tonegawa reported. "But if you go directly to the putative engram-bearing cells and activate them with light, you can restore the memory, despite the fact that there has been no LTP."

LTP stands for long-term potentiation and describes what happens when, through learning and experience, synapses are strengthened and connectivity between neuron groups becomes enhanced.

Follow Will Hector on Twitter: @WriterWithHeart

(Source: Science Daily)
About the Author
  • Will Hector practices psychotherapy at Heart in Balance Counseling Center in Oakland, California. He has substantial training in Attachment Theory, Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy, Psycho-Physical Therapy, and Formative Psychology. To learn more about his practice, click here: http://www.heartinbalancetherapy.com/will-hector.html
You May Also Like
SEP 27, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Optical Imaging in Tissue with Near-Infrared Dyes
SEP 27, 2021
Optical Imaging in Tissue with Near-Infrared Dyes
Optical Imaging in Tissue with Near-Infrared Dyes Written By Christopher Pratt, PhD   Go Long to See Deeper Imaging ...
SEP 26, 2021
Technology
How Light Therapy Could Help People With Alzheimer's Disease
SEP 26, 2021
How Light Therapy Could Help People With Alzheimer's Disease
Light therapy can refer to many things, though it generally describes the use of some kind of light source--whether natu ...
SEP 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Nudging Closer to a Sustainable Future
SEP 27, 2021
Nudging Closer to a Sustainable Future
Attitudes toward sustainable solutions have rapidly changed in the last few decades as environmental issues like climate ...
OCT 22, 2021
Neuroscience
Blind Person Sees With Visual Cortex Implant
OCT 22, 2021
Blind Person Sees With Visual Cortex Implant
An implant in a blind person's visual cortex generates images
NOV 16, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Algorithm Mines Big Data, Finds Gene Linked to Psychiatric Disease
NOV 16, 2021
Algorithm Mines Big Data, Finds Gene Linked to Psychiatric Disease
We have a wealth of human genome data overlaid with gene ‘hotspots’ linked to the development of particular ...
NOV 15, 2021
Health & Medicine
Alpha-synuclein as a Biomarker for Parkinson's Disease
NOV 15, 2021
Alpha-synuclein as a Biomarker for Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a widespread neurogenerative disorder that can significantly impact a person’s q ...
Loading Comments...