Right now, while we have a number of strategies that can help prevent and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, we don’t have any way to reverse it altogether. However, a team at the Gladstone Institutes has recently made a promising discovery about what goes wrong with memory function in Alzheimer’s patients. They’re hopeful that these findings could lead to better ways of supporting this process to enable people to better hold onto their precious memories.
Our brains store memories through two important activities that take place in the neurons of the hippocampus. The first activity is called sharp wave ripples. In these ripples, the brain replays something you’ve experienced over and over. The second activity, slow gamma activity, makes sure that the brain is replaying the experiences correctly. As you experience an event, the cells in your hippocampus are firing, forming a pattern. In these memory activities, those same cells repeat the pattern over and over (ripples) until the brain has it down. The slow gamma activity helps make sure the cells don’t start firing out of order.
The researchers found a gene that plays a key role in this process. In mice with the normal apoE3 gene, everything works smoothly. But when the mice had an apoE4 gene, they made a protein called apoE4 protein instead of the normal apoE3 protein. This protein can be found in 65 to 80% of people with Alzheimer’s disease. When the mice had this protein, they experienced fewer ripples and less slow gamma activity.
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The researchers speculated that this lessened activity level would affect memory formation. So they conducted a study of mice that expressed apoE4 in all of their hippocampus cells except for inhibitory neurons. The researchers knew that because the inhibitory neurons were functioning properly, the mice would still be able to learn and form memories. And while the mice did have fewer ripples, their slow gamma activity was normal. This told the researchers that slow gamma activity is a critical factor in memory consolidation. In other words, it doesn’t seem to matter so much how many times the brain plays back an activity as long as it plays it back correctly.
The researchers concluded that when the apoE4 protein affects all the cells in the hippocampus, it’s able to disrupt this slow gamma activity. And that’s the problem that wreaks havoc on our memories. Now that they know exactly what the issue is, they can begin searching for ways to boost this slow gamma activity so that memory formation can continue as usual.
In the meantime, it’s of course better to protect your brain and your memories in the first place. There are a number of steps you can take to do this, which I’ve written about before. Eating a proper diet and getting sufficient exercise are good places to start. I also recommend Advanced Memory Formula, which contains nine powerful nutrients to help your brain perform optimally as you age.
Frank Shallenberger, MD
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