50+ health * Healthy living * Mental wellbeing

Drug reverses aged-related memory loss

Drug reverses aged-related memory loss Human trials may start soon

A decline in memory and general mental ability is often associated with ageing, even in healthy brains. These so-called "senior moments", such as a difficulty remembering names or the location of objects, may represent symptoms of Alzheimer's or other mental conditions, or may just be a natural part of growing older.

Now a team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh have developed a drug which can reverse some of these effects - at least in elderly mice.

Effect of stress hormone

Age-related mental decline has often been associated with high levels of hormones known as glucocorticoids, which can have a negative effect on the parts of the brain responsible for memory. A particular chemical (called 11beta-HSD1) involved in making these hormones has been found to be more active in older brains - making it a candidate for possible treatment.

The scientists developed a man-made substance that can block the effects of 11beta-HSD1 on mice's brains.

Study leader Jonathan Seckl described the effect of the new treatment: "Normal old mice often have marked deficits in learning and memory just like some elderly people. We found that life-long partial deficiency of 11beta-HSD1 prevented memory decline with ageing."

"But we were very surprised to find that the blocking compound works quickly over a few days to improve memory in old mice suggesting it might be a good treatment for the already elderly," he added.

Fast acting

The beneficial effects of the treatment were seen after only 10 days, as Seckl explains: "We were very surprised to find that the blocking compound works quickly over a few days to improve memory in old mice, suggesting it might be a good treatment for the already elderly."

One of the scientists involved in the development of the drug, Professor Brian Walker, further commented: "These results provide proof-of-concept that this class of drugs could be useful to treat age-related decline in memory. The next step is to conduct further studies with our preclinical candidate to prove that the compound is safe to take into clinical trials, hopefully within a year."

The study, supported by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council (MRC), is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

This article was published on Wed 13 October 2010



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