Absence of a gene boosts memory, learning

January 18th, 2009 - 2:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 18 (IANS) Old age dementia could be connected to a gene identified by scientists in 2002. Scientists have found that absence of the gene in aged mice boosted their learning skills and memory, besides making them less sensitive to all kinds of chronic or acute pain. Fascinatingly, the brains of aged mice (18 months) showed learning capacities similar to those of very young mice.

The group of Toronto University scientists led by Josef Penninger, who identified the gene in 2002, named it as DREAM (downstream regulatory element antagonistic modulator). It obviously served as a key regulator in pain perception.

Thus, DREAM turns out to be a genetic candidate for explaining old age dementia. Even a causal connection to Alzheimer’s disease seems plausible.

Studies published in mid 2008 suggest that the devastating condition may be related to Calcium regulation gone awry.

The accumulation of amyloid plaques in brain cells, usually blamed for Alzheimer’s, might be a consequence of the Calcium-imbalance rather than the culprit for the disease.

And Calcium regulation is also responsible for tuning the activity of the DREAM-gene. Calcium homeostasis may thus be the link between pain perception, learning and memory.

This is supported by observations of patients suffering from chronic pain: very often their ability to memorize is strikingly reduced and they need a lot more time to learn than individuals without pain.

“It is absolutely fascinating that we found a gene which at the same time regulates pain, learning and old age memory function”, said Penninger. “It is of great interest to the millions of people suffering from chronic pain that we follow up on these results.”

Penninger, currently scientific director of IMBA, the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, continued to wonder what other surprises DREAM might have in store, said an IMBA release.

In a collaborative effort with neurobiologists from the University Pablo de Olivade (Seville), he devised experiments to follow up on the previous findings.

A team of scientists under Ángel Manuel Carrión subjected DREAM-less mice to numerous neurological tests and analysed their memory skills.

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