Memory loss protein identified

Scientists identified a protein as contributing to memory loss, leading to hopes of a treatment

Memory loss cure
Julio, 88, a patient with Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, and a former civil engineer, poses for a photograph inside the Alzheimer Foundation in Mexico city, April 19, 2012.Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Scientists have identified a protein that contributes to memory loss, presenting a possible means of slowing the effects of aging on the brain as well as combating the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Studies conducted by neuroscientist Saul Villeda at the University of California, San Francisco have documented the effects of the beta-2-microglobulin protein, otherwise known as the B2M protein, on the memory of mice. The results have lead scientists to look into developing a means how they could prevent the effects of aging on the brain.

The B2M protein is found in higher quantities in the cerebrospinal fluid (CNS) of the elderly and is thought to be a major contributor to memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer's.

Villeda and his colleagues have previously been involved in research that identified the positive health and cognitive effects of injecting old mice with the blood of young mice. They found that the infusions reversed the effects of the aging process in the older mice, including memory loss, tissue deterioration and muscle vitality.

Villeda expanded on this initial research by pinpointing the B2M protein as a dominant cause of cognitive health deterioration. The B2M immune protein is normally involved in fighting diseases as well as building neurological pathways and is found in higher rates in people with cognitive disorders and Alzheimer's.

Having identified B2M as potentially being a major factor in terms of the aging of the brain, the scientists then tested its effect on mice.

Their most recent study, published in the Nature Medicine journal, involved injecting the B2M protein into young mice which had been genetically altered not to produce the protein themselves, and observing their responses to tests in comparison to mice who were not injected.

All the mice were trained in the same skills which involved discovering a platform immersed in water and a fear test involving an electrocuted floor. The mice who were then injected by the B2M protein made more mistakes when next tested and it took them longer to react to external stimuli, suggesting that the protein had led to decreased memory and brain function.

This research is a major breakthrough in the medical understanding of how the human mind ages and what factors contribute to cognitive and memory disorders. New Scientist reports Villeda and his team have now begun looking into drugs, antibodies or molecules, that might be used to block the effects of B2M, or indeed block the protein entirely.

The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota associates an increase in B2M protein in diseases with chronic inflammation, liver disease, some acute viral infections and a number of cancers. It is also associated with diseases that have a large cell turn over, like HIV and other Autoimmune diseases.

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