Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Probing the secrets of sharp memory in old age

Date:
March 24, 2010
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Scientists are reporting new findings that may help explain why some individuals maintain sharp memory during aging, while others have normal or diminished mental capacity. The scientists found that "super-aged" brains tend to have fewer or no brain 'tangles' when compared to other individuals.

A study of the brains of people who stayed mentally sharp into their 80s and beyond challenges the notion that brain changes linked to mental decline and Alzheimer's disease are a normal, inevitable part of aging.

In a presentation given at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in San Fransisco March 23, Changiz Geula, Ph.D. and colleagues described their discovery of elderly people with super-sharp memory -- so-called "super-aged" individuals -- who somehow escaped formation of brain "tangles." The tangles consist of an abnormal form of a protein called "tau" that damages and eventually kills nerve cells. Named for their snarled, knotted appearance under a microscope, tangles increase with advancing age and peak in people with Alzheimer's disease.

"This discovery is very exciting," said Geula, principal investigator of the Northwestern University Super Aging Project and a professor of neuroscience at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center. "It is the first study of its kind and its implications are vast. We always assumed that the accumulation of tangles is a progressive phenomenon throughout the normal aging process. Healthy people develop moderate numbers of tangles, with the most severe cases linked to Alzheimer's disease. But now we have evidence that some individuals are immune to tangle formation. The evidence also supports the notion that the presence of tangles may influence cognitive performance. Individuals with the fewest tangles perform at superior levels. Those with more appear to be normal for their age."

The findings are based on examination of the nine brains from super-aged individuals. Subjects who volunteer for this study get a battery of memory and other tests and agree to donate their brains for examination after death. They are considered 'super- aged' because of their high performance on the tests. The tests include memory exercises to evaluate their ability to recall facts after being told a story or their ability to remember a list of more than a dozen words and recall those words sometime later. The super-aged individuals recruited for study so far are all more than 80 years old, but they performed the memory tasks at the level of 50-year-olds. The scientists are recruiting more volunteers for the study, with the goal of eventually including about 50 people.

Geula pointed out that previous studies tended to focus on what goes wrong with the brain as people age. It established that tangles and other deposits termed plaques accumulate at higher levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer's Disease. Geula said the new study is unique in its focus on what's right with the brains of older people. It seeks insights into what lifestyle, genetic[s?], or other factors may protect super-aged individuals from the age-related memory loss that affects most other people.

The scientists found that super-aged people appear to fall into two subgroups: Those who are almost immune to tangle formation and those that have few tangles.

"One group of super-aged seems to dodge tangle formation," Geula explained. "Their brains are virtually clean, which doesn't happen in normal-aged individuals. The other group seems to get tangles but it's less than or equal to the amount in the normal elderly. But for some reason, they seem to be protected against its effects."

The next step, Geula said, involves determining why one subgroup is immune to tangle formation and the other seems to be immune to its effects. Environment, lifestyle, and genetics may be key factors. For example, some super-aged individuals might have a genetic predisposition to being super-aged, while others may help preserve high brain function by maintaining a healthy diet or staying physically active. Others may keep mental decline at bay by keeping the brain itself active: By reading books, playing crossword puzzles, or engaging in other mentally demanding activities.

"Ultimately, chemistry is one of the keys to understanding what makes these tangles form," Geula said. "By understanding the specific anatomic, pathological, genetic, and molecular characteristics of high-performing brains, we may eventually be able to protect normal brains from age-related memory loss."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Probing the secrets of sharp memory in old age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100323212139.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2010, March 24). Probing the secrets of sharp memory in old age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100323212139.htm
American Chemical Society. "Probing the secrets of sharp memory in old age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100323212139.htm (accessed September 16, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

FDA Eyes Skin Shocks Used at Mass. School

AP (Sep. 15, 2014) The FDA is considering whether to ban devices used by the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Massachusetts, the only place in the country known to use electrical skin shocks as aversive conditioning for aggressive patients. (Sept. 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Shocker: Journalists Are Utterly Addicted To Coffee

Newsy (Sep. 13, 2014) A U.K. survey found that journalists consumed the most amount of coffee, but that's only the tip of the coffee-related statistics iceberg. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

'Magic Mushrooms' Could Help Smokers Quit

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) In a small study, researchers found that the majority of long-time smokers quit after taking psilocybin pills and undergoing therapy sessions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

'Fat Shaming' Might Actually Cause Weight Gain

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) A study for University College London suggests obese people who are discriminated against gain more weight than those who are not. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

      Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins