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A new important molecule for Alzheimer was found

The discovery of a molecule that gets involved in recognition memory can lead to better understanding human cognitive process of information storage, and achieving a future treatment for this disease currently incurable.

A group of investigators from the University of Bristol, England, identified a new important molecule in the function of a part of the memory that allows the recognition of people.

Alzheimer’s disease - a type of dementia that represents between the 50 and the 80 per cent of the total of dementias - is a progressive and degenerative brain condition that affects memory, thought and behaviour. Nowadays, about 25 million of people in the world suffer Alzheimer, and probably in the next 20 years an average of 70 million of new cases will appear.

The memory alteration is a necessary characteristic for the diagnostic of Alzheimer and other dementias. About 10% of people elder than 70 years have significant memory problems and nearly the half are due to Alzheimer’s disease. The elder a person, the bigger the risk of developing the disease - although the disorder is not necessarily a part of the normal aging.

Linked to Alzheimer is one of the biggest scientific challenges of the twenty-first century: understanding human cognition.  At the heart of this question is how information is stored in the brain of humans and other mammals.

Currently, most of scientists accept that the main mechanism by which the brain carries out the activity of storing information resides in the ability that neurons have to change in strength their connections (synapse). This process is known as synaptic plasticity.

Synaptic plasticity is the property that emerges from the nature and working of the neurons when they establish communication between them. It modulates the perception of the stimuli with the environment, both the ones which go in and the ones which go out.

A single neuron can integrate between 10,000 and 15,000 connections, all of them from other neurons and glial cells. If we take into account that the whole brain has an average of 100,000 million of neurons, the quantity of existing synapse in a human brain is a number really difficult to imagine.

Synaptic plasticity constitutes the support of such disparate process as learning and memory, adaptation to new physiological situations as pregnancy and thirst, as well as the base of the nervous system recovery after injuring.

The Research

The research, recently published in the scientific magazine Neuron and led by Professor Kei Cho form the Department of Medicine of the University of Bristol, identified a new molecule that is important for one of the major forms of synaptic plasticity known as long-term depression’ (LTD).

Synapse is not a rigid process, but it varies due to body activity patterns. In many synapses, a repetitive activity can lead not only to a short-term alteration, but to modifications that can last hours, days or even they can become permanent.

The two phenomena associated to these changes are known as long-term empowerment and the already mentioned long-term depression (LTD). Both have been postulated as substrates of learning and memory.

It has been found that the molecule known as neural calcium sensor-1(NCS-1), which had previously been identified as a molecule designed to detect minute amounts of calcium, is required for LTD. Probably, this form of synaptic plasticity is the base of some forms of learning and memory in the brain. Therefore, NCS-1 is likely to be an important molecule for the memory.

Professor Cho said: “This work is particularly pertinent since it was conducted in a brain region, the perirhinal cortex, which is important for recognition memory - the memory that you have seen a person before, for example. This type of memory is impaired at an early stage during Alzheimer’s disease and so understanding the molecular basis of synaptic plasticity in this region of the brain may, one day, lead to better cures and treatments for this devastating disease”.


At the moment, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but very positive results were obtained when applying techniques of training memory in order to delay the symptoms.

Nowadays, efforts are directed to implement general methods, which treat patient symptoms using medicines that alleviate their problems, and also to support relatives that live with these persons, since in most cases the evolution of the disease is very hard and long.



COGKNOW is funded by the European Comission within the IST-2005/2006-2.5.11 (Unit H3 - eInclusion) Contract #034025

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