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Synaptic mechanisms of memory loss: novel cell adhesion molecules as therapeutic targets

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Making memories and keeping them

Researchers have found potential therapeutic drugs against memory loss that is associated with stress, ageing and psychiatric disorders.

Health

Memory loss represents a significant social and economic burden in the EU and there are still no drugs available to slow or prevent the condition. One solution is to decipher the biological mechanisms of memory loss and to find the key molecules involved. Once found, scientists may be able to design drugs to target the molecules. This is the exact line of thinking that drove an EU-funded project known as 'Synaptic mechanisms of memory loss: Novel cell adhesion molecules as therapeutic targets' (MEMSTICK). Researchers looked specifically at neural synapses and cell adhesion molecules (CAMs), which help cells stick to each other and their environments. A synapse is the space between adjacent nerve cells across which chemical signals must jump. These chemical signals carry information such as memories. The project found that CAMs in crucial regions of animal brains are affected by learning experiences. They also found that under conditions like epilepsy, stress, Alzheimer's disease and other psychiatric disorders the amount of CAMs often decreases. Researchers have also identified a molecule known as plannexin as a potential drug candidate to enhance memory formation. Plannexin is a peptide (a short chain of amino acids not long enough to be called a protein) and it mimics the way a specific kind of neural CAM works. MEMSTICK project partners have made major progress on a research topic that until now was relatively unexplored. It has uncovered key mechanisms involved in memory loss and revealed promising pharmacological and genetic approaches to restore memory function. The research has therefore laid the foundation for future projects focused on targeted therapies.

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