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Drug Can Halt Brain Decline In Aging Mice

Update Date: Feb 05, 2016 12:13 PM EST

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, show that it is possible to reverse the aging process in brain cells and the loss of fibers that receive neural impulses, but move on to cognitive decline with advancing years.

However, a lot more research is needed.

"There's a tendency to think that aging is an inexorable process, that it's something in the genes and there's nothing you can do about it," Gary Lynch, co-author of the study, said in a press release. "This paper is saying that may not be true."

Dendrites, branch-like fibers on neurons that get signals from other neurons, were studied in rats.

The team used 10-month-old housed "middle-aged" male rats in enriched surroundings. The team gave an oral dose of ampakine to 11 rats every day for three months. The other 12 rats got only a neutral placebo.

With behavioral tests on the two groups, the team probed their activities in an unfamiliar environment.

Three months later, the team looked at the hippocampus, the area of the brain that was responsible for learning and memory. They were compared to the hippocampi of adolescent rats that were two-and-a-half months old.

Amazingly, those middle-aged rats that got the placebo showed shorter dendrites and a reduction in their branches as compared to the younger rats. However, those who got the ampakine, showed dendrites that were just like the younger rats. The second group even showed an increased amount of dendritic spines compared to the other two groups.

The ampakine group also showed enhanced brain signaling between neurons, a process that was called "long-term potentiation". It was important for "memory consolidation and learning".

Finally, the ampakine rats spent only two days exploring new areas before they settled in. It suggested that they could have better memories of the area and needed less time to understand.

"The treated rats had a better memory of the arena and developed strategies to explore," Lynch said.

"The importance of optimizing cognitive function across the lifespan cannot be overstated," said Carol Barnes, a neuroscientist who was not involved in the study, adding that she believes that the study "is particularly interesting because the drug effect was selective in the brain functions and behaviors that were changed. This is the kind of specificity that could make a translation to the clinic possible."

The study was published in Feb. 3,2016 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

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