Optogenetics: New techniques could restore our memories

Optogenetics: New techniques could restore our memories

Optogenetics could help many Alzheimer's patients in the future
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could restore forgotten memories? It would be extremely important for people with Alzheimer's disease to regain their thoughts and memories. Scientists have now discovered a way to stimulate nerve cells, which then grow new connections in our brain.

One of the effects of Alzheimer's is that the sick forget their memories, which makes it increasingly difficult for them to cope with the activities of everyday life. An increasing deterioration in cognitive performance can often be observed in those affected. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have now found in an investigation that there is a way to restore lost memories. The doctors published the results of their study in the journal "Nature".

Optogenetic treatment helped neurons grow
Scientists have now managed to restore lost memories. The technique has so far only been used successfully in mice. The new findings may make it possible to reverse memory loss in the early stages of the disease, the doctors explain. The experts used a technique called optogenetics, which uses light to activate cells that are labeled with a special light-sensitive protein.

The new method was tested on mice with symptoms similar to Alzheimer's. They quickly forgot the experience of receiving a slight electric shock on their feet. After highlighted cells in the brain were stimulated with light, their memory returned and they showed an anxiety response when placed in the chamber where they received an electric shock an hour earlier, the doctors say. The optogenetic treatment helped the neurons to grow again and form small buds, which are also called dendritic thorns. These then form synaptic connections with other cells, the experts add.

Nobel laureates led the new study
The researchers' research specifically concerned the previously identified memory cells in the hippocampus region of the brain. The results prove that lost memories are still saved, the doctors explain. The only question is how to reactivate these memories, says lead author Professor Susumu Tonegawa of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The well-known researcher received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1987. Two different strains of mice have been genetically engineered to cause the animals to develop Alzheimer's symptoms. There was also a control group of healthy animals.

Results may lead to new Alzheimer's treatment in the future
The longer-term activation of "lost" memories was triggered by the stimulation of new connections between the hippocampus and brain regions of the entorhinal cortex, doctors say. It is possible that in the future some technologies could be developed to activate or deactivate cells in our brain, such as the hippocampus or the entorhin cortex, explains Prof. Tonegawa. The basic research of the study provides information about the alignment of cell populations, which is very important for future applications and technologies. As a result, Alzheimer's treatment could be within reach, the experts say. One of the most important questions in understanding memory loss in Alzheimer's is that we don't know exactly whether people with Alzheimer's have problems storing memories or cannot remember stored knowledge, the scientists explain.

The new research concerns processes and problems that lead to memory loss in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease. The results suggest that recalling stored knowledge is the problem, experts say. However, there is still a long way to go to understand whether it is possible for people to restore lost memories, the experts add. (as)

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