By Natasha Poon
The thought of restoring lost memories seems like something out of a science fiction plot. However, research from UCLA indicates that some memories have the possibility to be restored. This discovery can change the game for those susceptible to memory loss diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related neurodegenerative disease. Synapses are the connection between neurons and Alzheimer’s disease destroys these connections. Neuroscientists believe that the loss of a synapse results in a complete loss of memories in that synapse. However, evidence has led to the conclusion that the nervous system is able to regenerate lost synaptic connections and by restoring synaptic connections, memories can come back.
When long-term memories are formed, new proteins assist in making new synapses. There is a disruption of synaptic connections when concussions or other trauma to the head occurs forcing long-term memory formation to be halted. As a result, after a concussion, people cannot typically remember what happened just prior to the injury.
The UCLA study examined a protein called N-methyl D-aspartate, or NMDA receptor antagonists. This receptor enhances the strength of the nervous system’s synaptic connections and can play a vital role in memory. The US and Europe has approved NMDA as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Typically, doctors prescribe NMDA to patients that have more advanced symptoms. It has some benefits in patients that have moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Because NMDA antagonists have an effect on how nerve cells talk to one another, this antagonist is also being studied as treatments for diseases like Parkinson’s or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, the research is still in an early stage. Scientists are still developing methods that can effectively use these chemicals in a way that helps people fight illnesses.
So do NMDA receptor antagonists really restore lost memories? While it has not yet been proven that restoring synaptic connections can allow lost memories to come back, there are other benefits to using this antagonist. This antagonist results in patients with better cognition. With time, stronger synaptic connections can greatly reduce the effect that AD has on the patient.
With greater research for this antagonist, I think there is hope for people with neurodegenerative diseases to live fuller lives. We must remember that it is overwhelming to have a family member with a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative disease. Having a geater quality of life for the patient, can make it easier for families to cope and reach peace.