WASHINGTON — Scientists have found a compelling clue in the quest to learn what causes age-related memory problems and to one day be able to tell if those misplaced car keys are just a senior moment or an early warning of something worse.
Wednesday's report offers evidence that age-related memory loss really is a distinct condition from pre-Alzheimer's — and offers a hint that what we now consider the normal forgetfulness of old age might eventually be treatable.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center examined eight brains, young and old ones, donated from people who died without signs of neurologic disease. They discovered that a certain gene produces less of a key protein as people age. A deficiency of that protein in the hippocampus was linked to non-Alzheimer's memory loss.
Cutting levels of the protein made healthy young mice lose their way in mazes and perform worse on other memory tasks just like old mice naturally do.
Boosting the protein made forgetful old mice as sharp as the youngsters again, the researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
This is early-stage research, cautioned Dr. Molly Wagster of the National Institute on Aging, who wasn't involved with the report. But Wagster said the findings add to evidence suggesting "that we're not all on the road to Alzheimer's disease" after a certain age.