Thursday, 23 February 2012

Synaptic plasticity and magic pills

"Memory-Boosting Drugs Could Be A Step Closer" the media is declaring, with a picture of pills to make the point clearer.

This relates to research just published in the Public Library of Science biology journal with the title: Facilitation of AMPA Receptor Synaptic Delivery as a Molecular Mechanism for Cognitive Enhancement.

It is interesting stuff and very welcome it is published in an open access journal.

Rats treated with a peptide designated FGL had improved spatial learning. This was evaluated by how well they could find their way around a water maize.

The improved learning ability remained even after the peptide had been administered. It had apparently sensitised the brain to lay down memories more effectively.

The authors (who declare having a small shareholding in the company that synthesizes FGL) explain:
The human brain contains trillions of neuronal connections, called synapses, whose pattern of activity controls all our cognitive functions. These synaptic connections are dynamic and constantly changing in their strength and properties, and this process of synaptic plasticity is essential for learning and memory. Alterations in synaptic plasticity mechanisms are thought to be responsible for multiple cognitive deficits, such as autism, Alzheimer's disease, and several forms of mental retardation. In this study, we show that synapses can be made more plastic using a small protein fragment (peptide) derived from a neuronal protein involved in cell-to-cell communication. This peptide (FGL) initiates a cascade of events inside the neuron that results in the facilitation of synaptic plasticity.
Which in my simplification means the physical change that takes place in the brain to form memories take place more readily once FGL has been present.

How FGL arises naturally in the brain and whether it plays a role in the improved spatial memories of taxi drivers is another question. After all significant brain changes have been found to occur when taxi drivers learn the routes they need to obtain a licence, as the BBC reported in December 2011.

The FGL was actually administered to the rats using "A 22-gauge double-guide injection cannula ... fixed with two screws in the skull using dental cement".

Whether or not FGL has a role to play in future treatment of degenerative disease, there is a way to go to get the FGL to the correct location via the stomach using the pills that are pictured in the media stories.

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