Could Blocking A Molecule in the Brain Reverse Cognitive Decline?

Scientists, this week, managed to reverse memory loss in mice in an experiment they believe could lead to improving memory in aging human adults.  The process involves the simple disabling of a single molecule in the cerebral blood vessels.  In tests performed at Stanford University School of Medicine, researchers found that aging rodents were able to expertly navigate a maze with as much energy and tenacity as a mouse half their age. 

After years of experimentation, scientists say that manipulation of the VCAM1 protein—which is well known to immunologists—is the secret. 

Apparently the transformations were not only external. In addition to a performance boost, researchers say the experiment rejuvenated the mice’s ability to generate brand new nerve cells; it even weakened the effects of inflammation.

Experts are now saying that these findings add validity to the standing theory that something in our blood is actually responsible for our eventual cognitive decline—and not the aging of the brain itself. More importantly, the study suggests that since this blood-borne obstacle may be a reality, it may also provide the solution to cognitive decline as a whole.

Of course, the tests were not able to concretely identify what component of the blood, exactly, is the cause for this miracle. But, by blocking just one molecular in the blood, the research team discovered they could manage the how blood flows through the blood vessels. And this, then, gives them control over how the brain inflames. 

According to the Stanford University professor of neurology and neurological sciences, and co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, this might be a very important mechanism through which our blood communications “deleterious signals’ to the brain.” Essentially, this study demonstrates the possibility of, at least some day, developing treatments that can slow—or even reverse—cognitive decline without the need [risky and expensive] invasive techniques. 

Actually, this implies that we could soon be able to treat brain degeneration with drugs that are not typically good at getting through the blood brain barrier.  In fact, this study suggests that we would no longer need to formulate drugs to do this at all!

The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature Medicine.