Drugs could be used to boost memory by improving the connections between nerve cells in the brain, scientists have found. The researchers hope this could help with further understanding of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
The human brain contains trillions of neuronal connections called synapses, which control our cognitive functions, the study paper explains. These connections are constantly changing in their strength and properties, a process known as synaptic plasticity.
Alterations in these changes are thought to be responsible for multiple cognitive deficits, such as autism, Alzheimer's disease, and several forms of mental retardation.
The study found that this plasticity can be improved using a small protein fragment or peptide.
When this peptide was administered to rats, their ability to learn and retain spatial information was enhanced.
The study is the result of collaboration between researchers at The Centro de Biologia Molecular Severo Ochoa at the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia (UNED) in Spain, the Brain Mind Institute at the Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology at the Faculty of Health Sciences in Denmark.
Lead researcher Dr Esteban said: "We have known for three decades that synaptic connections are not fixed from birth, but they respond to neuronal activity modifying their strength.
"Thus, outside stimuli will lead to the potentiation of some synapses and the weakening of others."
He added: "These are basic studies on the molecular and cellular processes that control our cognitive function.
"Nevertheless, they shed light into potential therapeutic avenues for mental disorders where these mechanisms go awry."
The study, published in the journal PLoS Biology, suggests that cognitive function can be improved pharmalogically in adult animals by enhancing the plasticity of synaptic connections in the brain.
Professor Geraint Rees, director at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said, as reported by the Press Association: "This is exciting because it links the ability to modify particular types of synapse - the connection between nerve cells - to improved navigational ability.
"But it is important to remember that there are many differences between rats and humans, and so whether this has promise as a way of enhancing human cognitive abilities remains uncertain."
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at leading Alzheimer's charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in a statement:
“Communication between nerve cells is vital, but gets lost in Alzheimer’s leading to symptoms such as memory loss and confusion. This study outlines details of a molecular mechanism in nerve cells which can enhance learning and memory and may hold potential for understanding diseases such as Alzheimer’s where these essential connections are lost.
“It’s a big challenge, but there is hope that by understanding the processes that control cognitive function, scientists could develop therapies to improve or maintain cognition in diseases like Alzheimer’s. This study used normal healthy tissue and so further work would be needed to look at the potential of the FGL protein in Alzheimer’s. With research into dementia so underfunded, and the number of people living with the condition increasing, it is vital that we increase funding for research into these devastating diseases.”
Avocados are a great source of 'healthy fats' as well as a good blood circulation booster. This is important when it comes to brain power, as it enhances the blood flow to the brain, maintaining healthy brain function.
The essential omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish like sardines, herring, trout and mackerel, as well as walnut oil and flaxseeds (linseeds) - are high in Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a fatty acid crucial to maintaining a healthy nervous system. Low DHA levels have been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and memory loss. Fish also contains iodine, which is known to improve mental clarity. For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.
Whole grains improve circulation and help regulate glucose levels in the blood as the steadier the glucose levels, the easier it is to concentrate. This is why it's important to eat breakfast in the morning, as it not only revs up the metabolism, but keeps your sugar levels balanced as well as protecting against diabetes and heart disease.
Sugar is the brain's preferred fuel source, however before you reach for the table sugar, it's glucose that your body needs. The body metabolises glucose from the sugars and carbohydrates in food. That's why a glass of something sweet offers a short-term boost to memory, thinking processes, and mental ability. Too much sugar on the other hand, can result in impaired memory, so go easy on the sweet stuff and consume enough to boost your brain power.
Like sugar, caffeine perks up the brain but if you have too much, it can have negative effect on your mental state. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up feeling. But beware, the effects are short-term and if you overdo it, the brain can go into overdrive and make you more jittery than sharp thinking.
Nuts and seeds are great sources of antioxidant vitamin E, which is associated with less cognitive decline as you age. A good intake of vitamin E is linked to preventing poor memory. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, seeds, eggs, brown rice and whole grains. Pumpkin seeds are especially good for boosting brain power, as a handful a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.
Blueberries and strawberries contain antioxidants, which are thought to protect brain neurons from damage, build communication receptors between each brain cell, and flush out waste. They also help protect against age-related diseases like Alzheimer's. Blackberries are also a great brain booster, as it contains Vitamin C which has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility.
An unlikely contender, the humble sage has long had a reputation for improving memory. Although its recommended to try sage oils, try and sprinkle some sage into your diet.
Folic acid and vitamin B12 help prevent homocysteine from building up in the body, which is higher in those with Alzheimer's. Vitamin B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are also good vitamins to stock up on when looking to boost brain power.
Tomato's contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's.
A great source of vitamin K, broccoli which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.