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Memories 'Lost' To Alzheimer's Can Be Recovered, MIT Study Suggests

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – Researchers at MIT may have made an important breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer's Disease.

The school announced Wednesday that it may be possible to retrieve recent memories of Alzheimer's patients that were thought to have been "lost" to the disease.

Neuroscientists reached that conclusion after extensive tests on mice that have been genetically modified to develop Alzheimer's symptoms.

First, the Alzheimer's mice were put in a chamber with normal mice and all received a foot shock. When the mice were put back in the chamber a few days later, only the normal mice demonstrated fear while the Alzheimer's mice didn't seem to remember the shock.

But when scientists shined light on the specific brain cells that encode the unsettling event, the Alzheimer's mice immediately showed fear.

In this image of the hippocampal dentate gyrus of a mouse model of early Alzheimer's disease, engram cells (green) that encode a fear memory were tagged with the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin-2. (Image credit Dheeraj Roy)

"Directly activating the cells that we believe are holding the memory gets them to retrieve it," MIT graduate student Dheeraj Roy said. "This suggests that it is indeed an access problem to the information, not that they're unable to learn or store this memory."

The researchers said this is the first study of its kind to show that while it may be hard for people with early Alzheimer's to access memories, they are still retrievable.

"It's possible that in the future some technology will be developed to activate or inactivate cells deep inside the brain, like the hippocampus or entorhinal cortex, with more precision," neuroscientist Susumu Tonegawa said.

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