Memory-restoring compound could destroy Alzheimer’s forever

Aging rats have had their
memory loss reversed, thanks to a compound that helps them form new
memories again. The compound could be a breakthrough treatment for
Alzheimer’s.

Essential to the creation and maintenance of
memories is neurogenesis, in which new neurons are created and then
wired into the brain’s circuitry. This process occurs in the dentate
gyrus, a key sector of the brain’s memory hub in the hippocampus. Even
in healthy brains, this is a difficult process, with only about 10% of
these neurons surviving long enough to become a useful part of memory
production. Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by uncontrolled
cell death, the survival rate drops to close to zero.

A recent study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
sought out compounds that could protect these vulnerable neurons from
the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Researchers tested 1000 different molecules
on mice that had been engineered to lack a gene critical to the survival
of new memory neurons. They found that one compound in particular,
called P7C3, greatly reduced the death of these cells, toughening up
their outer defenses and helping them maintain a higher energy level.

Encouraged by these results, they then gave P7C3 to elderly rats with
memory problems. The rats who were given the compound enjoyed three
times the rate of new neuron survival than their counterparts in the
control group, and they massively outperformed their peers remembering
their way through a water maze test.

Steven McKnight, one of the leaders of the research team, explains
why these results are so exciting:

"This neuroprotective compound, called P7C3, holds special promise
because of its medication-friendly properties. It can be taken orally,
crosses the blood-brain barrier with long-lasting effects, and is safely
tolerated by mice during many stages of development."

And P7C3 might not even be the best option. A derivative of the
compound, dubbed A20, is even better at protecting memory neurons. In
fact, it’s 300 times more potent than another compound currently in
clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s. The researchers are hoping to
better understand the underlying mechanisms of both compounds in the
hopes of finding even more potential treatments for the disease.

Send an email to Alasdair Wilkins, the author of this post, at alasdair@io9.com.

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