McGill University researchers have discovered that a mutant gene improves the long-term memory of laboratory mice, a discovery they hope will one day lead to a better quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients and others suffering from memory impairment.
"We now have an excellent target for the development of new drugs that would be capable of doing the same thing that we did, which could be of great benefit to an aging population with memory loss," said Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, James McGill Professor of Translational Control Mechanisms in the Department of Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Scholar at McGill.
Using a mutant gene that regulates the switch from short to long-term memory in mice, Dr. Costa-Mattioli and his colleagues were able to manipulate biochemical reactions in the animals’ brains to control their memory and cognitive behaviour – both extending and reducing long-term memory functions. Their findings appear in the April 6 issue of the journal Cell.
To study spatial memory, the researchers used such tests as the Morris water maze, in which a mouse is placed in a pool of water containing a hidden platform located just below the surface. Visual cues are placed around the pool and over a number of trials, researchers analyze how quickly the mice remember how to locate the hidden platform using these cues. In this and other tests, the researchers found that the mice with the altered gene exhibited enhanced learning and memory.
Drs. Mauro Costa-Mattioli and Sonenberg conducted the research in collaboration with Dr. Jean-Claude Lacaille of Université de Montréal, Dr. Kobi Rosenblum of the University of Haifa and Dr. Randal Kaufman of the University of Michigan, as well as a team of colleagues from McGill, consisting of Drs. Jerry Pelletier, Wayne Sossin, Claudio Cuello, Kresimir Krnjevic and Karim Nader, a McGill psychology professor best known for his discovery that the impact of traumatic memories can be lessened with drug treatment.
"Our next step is to look at many different compounds to start searching for a drug that can be designed to improve long-term memory in humans," said Dr. Sonenberg.