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Brain Inflammation Significantly Disrupts Memory Retrieval Networks: Study

Update Date: Sep 12, 2014 02:20 PM EDT

Brain inflammation can rapidly disrupt our ability to retrieve complex memories of similar but distinct experiences, according to a new study. 

The study specifically identifies how immune system signaling molecules, called cytokines, impair communication among neurons in the hippocampus - an area of the brain critical for discrimination memory.

 Findings of the study offer insight into why cognitive deficits occur in people undergoing chemotherapy and those with autoimmune or neurodegenerative diseases. 

"Our research provides the first link among immune system activation, altered neural circuit function and impaired discrimination memory," said John Guzowski, the James L. McGaugh Chair in the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory. "The implications may be beneficial for those who have chronic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, in which memory loss occurs and even for cancer patients."

Researchers interestingly discovered that increased cytokine levels in the hippocampus only affected complex discrimination memory. 

"The cytokines caused the neural network to react as if no learning had taken place," said Guzowski, associate professor of neurobiology & behavior. "The neural circuit activity was back to the pattern seen before learning."

"It will be interesting to see if limiting neuroinflammation will give cancer patients fewer or no problems," added co-author of the study, Dr. Daniela Bota, in the press release . "It's a wonderful idea, and it presents a new method to limit brain cell damage, improving quality of life. This is a great example of basic science and clinical ideas coming together to benefit patients."

The study has been published today in the Journal of Neuroscience. 

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