09/03/2013 03:44 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2013

Of Mice and Memory: Reversing Memory Loss

If you're old enough to have had the experience of walking into a room to get something only to forget what you were so urgently seeking, you'll want to read this. It's actually good health news for a change.

Researchers at Columbia University have demonstrated that common age-related memory loss is distinct from Alzheimer's disease. As importantly, you can reverse this loss. Well, if you're a mouse, you can. But in the white-coated lab world of biomedical research, one small step for mice can be a game changer for us human types.

Unlike Alzheimer's disease, age-related memory loss begins in an area of the brain known as the dentate gyrus. This is a region of the hippocampus, the brain's memory center. The lab examined eight human brains for proteins whose concentrations change significantly in the dentate gyrus with age.

The team found one particular molecule whose function appeared related to the loss of function seen with age-related memory loss. The name of this molecule of course is impossible to remember, RbAp48. It appears that the concentration of this critical molecule diminishes with age in both mice and humans. This makes it a potential target for a drug that would treat such memory loss.

In a remarkable series of experiments, the investigators genetically manipulated mice to allow control of RbAp48 levels. Decreasing levels in young mice resulted in memory deficits typically seen in older mice. Increasing RbAp48 levels in older forgetful mice restored their memory function.

This is very good news for those of us who are perpetually looking for our keys. But until you can pick up a prescription for, what's it called, some RbAp48 drug, there are some things that have been shown to be good for preventing loss of brain function with age. Dr. Small, one of the authors of the RbAp48 study, recommends the following.

  • Cardiovascular conditioning: associated with larger brains and better memory
  • Mental stimulation: ongoing education reduces Alzheimer's risk and improves cognition
  • Stress management
  • Good sleep habits
  • Good nutrition: antioxidants, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Avoid head trauma
  • Stop smoking
  • Treat high blood pressure
  • Maintain healthy weight

Don't forget.

For more by Paul Spector, M.D., click here.

For more on Alzheimer's disease, click here.