Bees could hold the key to dementia

March 24th, 2011 - 3:20 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 24 (IANS) A Norwegian scientist has successfully reversed the aging process in bee brain, which may have a bearing on dementia.

“We accept that as we age, our health and mental acuity will decline. But recent findings indicate that aging doesn’t have to be synonymous with going downhill,” says Gro Amdam, who led the study at the Arizona State University.

Her research subjects are bees, the workings of whose brain cells are surprisingly similar to ours, she explains. So when she finds the secrets behind what makes a bee brain tick, the knowledge may well apply to humans too.

Her bee subjects underwent a lab learning test in which they were challenged to combine an impression (a scent) with a reward — and to remember that relationship later, according to an Arizona statement.

The results indicate that bees that learn, well understand the relationship immediately, just as children learn to behave nicely when promised a reward of chocolate cake.

While the older bees make the connection less quickly than younger ones, the bees with symptoms similar to dementia either never understand the relationship or they forget it at once.

“These bee problems are similar to what we see in old people: both short-term memory and the ability to learn decline,” the professor summarises.

The division of labour among bees is usually such that older bees collect food outside the hive, while younger bees tend to the larvae.

When the older bees were placed to do the younger bees’ tasks, half of them improved in their learning and memory abilities.

“Research on older people show that social stimulation can have positive effects on health and brain functioning,” says Amdam. “Bees appear to reflect some of this as well.”

The brain’s proteins may play a key role. When the researchers analysed the brains of bees that improved versus those that did not improve, large differences were found in the levels of eight proteins involved in the growth, repair and maintenance of brain cells. Several of these proteins are also found in humans.

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