Gene therapy for brain protein boosts memory in aged mice

Building on earlier research into neuroplasticity and the ability to retain memories, investigators led by Scripps say they were able to nab some animal data to support their theory that boosting a particular cholesterol-binding membrane protein in neurons has real potential for improving memory among patients suffering from neurodegeneration.

The protein is called caveolin-1 (Cav-1). In previous work, the researchers from the Scripps Research Institute, the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and University of California San Diego School of Medicine demonstrated that the protein supported cholesterol needed for neuron growth and cell signaling. Using a mouse model for advanced age, they tested the theory by adding the protein to the hippocampus and running some simple memory tests on the rodents.

The researchers targeted the hippocampus because this is a region in the brain where people form contextual memories, recalling, for example, if they're returning to a favorite picnic spot. And after using a gene therapy approach to deliver the protein into mice, they observed that the mice responded fearfully when they returned to a place where they had received an electrical shock.

Now the researchers want to expand their work and start experimenting on different parts of the brain, seeing how this approach might deal with memory loss triggered by a variety of causes, including heavy drinking.

"This is a novel strategy for treating neurodegenerative diseases, and it underscores the importance of brain cholesterol," said Chitra Mandyam, associate professor at Scripps and co-first author of the study with Jan Schilling of UC San Diego and the VA, in a release.

- here's the release
- get the research abstract