FYI Daily

Memory Pill? It Might be Closer Than You Think

Last updated:

December 19, 2011

Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have found that suppressing an immune molecule known as PKR gives mice a big memory boost.

Mauro Costa-Mattioli and colleagues first genetically modified mice to block PKR. They noticed that gamma interferon, another immune molecule, increased communication between neurons in those mice, which increased their brain function.

Of course, genetic modification isn't something most people would sign up for. Costa-Mattioli and his team turned next to finding a molecule they could use to inhibit PKR in genetically normal mice. They found one, injected it into the stomachs of some mice, and tested their memories against normal mice.

According to the Vancouver Sun, "In one type of test, the mice used visual cues to find a hidden platform in a pool. It took days of repetition for the regular mice to remember where to find the platform, while the mice without PKR learned after one try."

The PKR-inhibited mice were just as healthy as the normal mice.

It might be possible to inhibit PKR in humans, and see similar results. Costa-Mattioli mentioned that the next steps would be to up the potency of the inhibitor and start testing it in clinical trials.

Think you might benefit from a memory pill just as much as someone with Alzheimer's? Costa-Mattioli said a PKR inhibitor might boost memory even in people who don't have memory problems, but that's not his goal.

"Let's say we compare this with Viagra. People use Viagra at whatever age, let's say 60, 65. But someone (who) is 40 goes to buy it, they can get it," he said. "But this is not our goal . . . Our goal would be to treat people who have a memory problem."