Researchers zero in on region of the brain connected to age related memory loss

May 31, 2022
Researchers at the university conducted an experiment where they compared young rats with unimpaired memories to older rats with unimpaired memories and older rats with impaired memories. Source: Getty

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University have zeroed in on a region of the brain connected to age related memory loss as they strive to better understand the mechanisms that prevent memory impairment.

As part of the Loss of functional heterogeneity along the CA3 transverse axis in aging study, researchers discovered a region of the brain called CA3 which is responsible for memory functions referred to as pattern completion and pattern separation. These functions take place in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus.

Professor at the Zanyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at John Hopkins University, James Knierim, explains, “We’re trying to understand why a part of the brain called the hippocampus is so critical for normal memory.”

“But also with many memory disorders, something is going wrong with this area.”

In simple terms, pattern completion refers to our ability to recognise similar places and experiences – such as the being able to recognise a place you’ve been to before. On the other hand, pattern separation is our ability to distinguish between seperate events, such as what happened at those events and the conversations you had in order to avoid confusing seperate experiences.

In an adequately functioning brain, pattern completion and pattern separation work simultaneously to organise and understand perceptions and experiences.

Researchers have identified that as we grow older, the balance of these functions can fall out of equilibrium as a potential effect of the CA3 gradient disappearing over time, resulting in memory loss and/or impairment. As a consequence, pattern separation dissipates, leaving pattern completion to dominate the brain which then leads to issues of confusion for older people trying to make sense of a specific experience or differentiate between two experiences.

Researchers at the university conducted an experiment where they compared young rats with unimpaired memories to older rats with unimpaired memories and older rats with impaired memories.

The main findings were as follows: older rats with unimpaired memories performed the tasks as adequately as young rats, however, it was clear that “the neurons in the CA3 regions of their hippocampi were already beginning to favor pattern completion at the expense of pattern separation”, according to 

It was then concluded that despite the change in neuron behaviour, “something was allowing the rats to compensate for the deficit”, a discovery that could potentially lead to further understanding of how to prevent and delay memory loss and impairment in older people, such as with the use of anti-epilepsy drugs that reduce hyperactivity in the hippocampus.

“If we can understand better what these compensatory mechanisms are, then maybe we can help prevent cognitive decline with aging,” Knierim said.

“Or, if we can’t stop it, maybe we can enhance other parts of the brain to compensate for the losses that are occurring.”

A recent study from the University of East Anglia (UEA) discovered their own insights into brain health after finding that introducing a few cranberries into your diet can help improve memory and brain function, with the findings offering hope of preventing neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

The Chronic Consumption of Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) for 12 Weeks Improves Episodic Memory and Regional Brain Perfusion in Healthy Older Adults: A Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Groups Feasibility Study is the first of its kind in examining the impact cranberries have on brain health. Over a 12 week period, researchers studied the benefits of consuming the equivalent of a cup of cranberries among 60 subjects aged between 50 and 80 years old.

UEA’s Norwich Medical School Lead Researcher, Dr David Vauzour said “we wanted to find out more about how cranberries could help reduce age-related neurodegeneration”.

“Cranberries are rich in these micronutrients and have been recognized for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,” he said.

“Past studies have shown that higher dietary flavonoid intake is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and dementia. And foods rich in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which give berries their red, blue, or purple colour, have been found to improve cognition.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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