We all know that stress is bad for us but did you know it can trigger an immune molecule in the brain that damages memory? Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and McGill University in Montreal conducted studies on the enzyme PKR, particularly PKR deficiency, and they learned that reduced PKR can result in improved memory.
PKR, which protects against viral infections, works as a stress responder that can cause cell death and also regulates synaptic activity as it relates to the formation of memories, according to PopSci. PKR activation is experienced by patients that have Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and other neurological diseases.
Researchers genetically modified mice to not have a gene that’s used in the creation of PKR and put them through memory tests that required the mice to use visual cues to find a hidden platform inside a circular pool. Mice that still had the PKR gene had to repeat the test several time over numerous days in order to remember where the platform was, but the mice without the PKR gene learned the location of the platform after just one training session.
Considering that the brain is a highly adaptive organ, another immune enzyme, gamma interferon, increased synaptic communication among neurons, giving the mice what one researcher referred to as “super memory.”
More important than the improved memory in the genetically altered mice is the fact that regular mice that were injected with a PKR inhibitor in their stomachs also exhibited improved memory skills. According to the researchers, the success of the gut-injected inhibitor suggests that a pill would work just as well.
While more tests, including human trials, will have to be conducted, Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, assistant professor of neuroscience at BCM, says the PKR inhibitor could eventually be used to help people suffering from memory loss.