Before going too far into this new study, non-scientist readers should remember that every year basic research produces hundreds of promising leads that for whatever reason don’t pan out. Either the proposed treatment has too many side effects, it doesn’t work as well as something already on the market, follow-up work discredits the original report or the treatment doesn’t work when translated from mice to humans. As a general rule exciting lab results should raise an eyebrow but we should hold off on changing our lives until the clinical trials are in.
That said, keep an eye on new results from a team at MIT:
Scientists found mice with a similar condition to Alzheimer’s were able to regain memories of tasks they had previously been taught.
A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found two methods – brain stimulation and drugs – both worked.
[…] After six weeks with the brain disease, the mice were no longer able to remember how to perform these tasks.
Some of the mice were then placed in a more stimulating environment with toys, treadmills and other mice.
The playground mice were able to remember the shock test far better than the mice in other cages. They were also better at learning new things.
Scientists then tested a class of drugs called histone deacetylase, or HDAC, inhibitors on the mice.
These also improved memory and learning, similar to improvements made by environmental stimulation
Also reported in the Washington Post, which emphasizes the treatment’s potential to recover lost memories.
HDAC proteins reduce gene expression by tightening the interaction between histone proteins and DNA. Inhibiting these lifts the block on silenced genes and increases overall gene expression, although it remains unclear how exactly gene silencing relates to the protein plaques that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Although none of the reports I have found identify the drug (anybody?), it struck me that this class of drug alost exactly counteracts a red wine-related polyphenol called resveratrol, a drug that should sound familiar to frequent readers of this blog. Although none fo the reports have made the jump from lab animals to humans, resveratrol and related polyphenols have shown promising results in preventing cancer, decreasing infectious diseases, extending lifespan, increasing stamina and most intriguingly, increased mental agility in rats. If HDAC inhibitors fight Alzheimer’s disease, and resveratrol almost directly counteracts the effects of HDAC inhibitor drugs, does that mean that resveratrol makes Alzheimer’s disease more likely? Why would resveratrol-like polyphenols increase mental agility and at the same time almost the exact opposite drug fights Alzheimer’s?
This work lies outside my personal expertise so all that I can offer is provocative questions. But the odd contradictions here suggest that something weird is going on, and a lucrative prize waits for whoever figures it out.