Posts tagged memory
Posts tagged memory
Past research has long indicated that depression is a big risk factor for memory loss in aging adults. But it is still unclear exactly how the two issues are related and whether there is potential to slow memory loss by fighting depression.
A preliminary study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and the School of Nursing, and published in the 42nd edition of Psychoneuroendocrinology in April, delves more deeply into the relationship between depression and memory loss, and how this connection may depend on levels of insulin-like growth factor, or IGF-1.
Prior research has shown that IGF-1, a hormone that helps bolster growth, is important for preserving memory, especially among older adults.
The collaborative study found that people with lower cognitive ability were more likely to have had higher depressive symptoms if they also had low levels of IGF-1. Reversely, participants with high levels of IGF-1 had no link between depressive symptoms and memory.
Senior author Kathi L. Heffner, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Department of Psychiatry, had originally examined possible associations between IGF-1 and memory in a sample of 94 healthy older adults, but couldn’t find strong or consistent evidence.
Heffner then approached the study’s lead author Feng (Vankee) Lin, Ph.D, R.N., assistant professor at the School of Nursing, for input because of her expertise in cognitive aging. Lin is a young nurse researcher whose collaborative work focuses on developing multi-model interventions to slow the progression of cognitive decline in at-risk adults, and reduce their risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Vankee spearheaded the idea to examine the role of depressive symptoms in these data, which resulted in the interesting link,” Heffner said.
The association discovered between memory loss, depression and IGF-1 means that IGF-1 could be a very promising factor in protecting memory, Lin said.
“IGF-1 is currently a hot topic in terms of how it can promote neuroplasticity and slow cognitive decline,” Lin said. “Depression, memory and the IGF-1 receptor are all located in a brain region which regulates a lot of complicated cognitive ability. As circulating IGF-1 can pass through the blood-brain barrier, it may work to influence the brain in a protective way.”
Lin said more data studies are needed of people with depression symptoms and those with Alzheimer’s disease, but this study opens an important door for further research on the significance of IGF-1 levels in both memory loss and depression.
“It really makes a lot of sense to further develop this study,” Lin said. “If this could be a way to simultaneously tackle depression while preventing cognitive decline it could be a simple intervention to implement.”
Heffner said that clinical trials are underway to determine whether IGF-1 could be an effective therapeutic agent to slow or prevent cognitive decline in people at risk.
“Cognitive decline can also increase risk for depressive symptoms, so if IGF-1 protects people from cognitive decline, this may translate to reduced risk for depression as well,” Heffner said.
By tracking brain activity when an animal stops to look around its environment, neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University believe they can mark the birth of a memory.
Using lab rats on a circular track, James Knierim, professor of neuroscience in the Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute at Johns Hopkins, and a team of brain scientists, noticed that the rats frequently paused to inspect their environment with head movements as they ran. The scientists found that this behavior activated a place cell in their brain, which helps the animal construct a cognitive map, a pattern of activity in the brain that reflects the animal’s internal representation of its environment.
In a paper recently published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the researchers state that when the rodents passed that same area of the track seconds later, place cells fired again, a neural acknowledgement that the moment has imprinted itself in the brain’s cognitive map in the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the brain’s warehouse for long- and short-term processing of episodic memories, such as memories of a specific experience like a trip to Maine or a recent dinner. What no one knew was what happens in the hippocampus the moment an experience imprints itself as a memory.
“This is like seeing the brain form memory traces in real time,” said Knierim, senior author of the research. “Seeing for the first time the brain creating a spatial firing field tied to a specific behavioral experience suggests that the map can be updated rapidly and robustly to lay down a memory of that experience.”
A place cell is a type of neuron within the hippocampus that becomes active when an animal or human enters a particular place in its environment. The activation of the cells help create a spatial framework much like a map, that allows humans and animals to know where they are in any given location. Place cells can also act like neural flags that “mark” an experience on the map, like a pin that you drop on Google maps to mark the location of a restaurant.
“We believe that the spatial coordinates of the map are delivered to the hippocampus by one brain pathway, and the information about the things that populate the map, like the restaurant, are delivered by a separate pathway,” said Knierim. “When you experience a new item in the environment, the hippocampus combines these inputs to create a new spatial marker of that experience.”
In the experiments, researchers placed tiny wires in the brains of the rats to monitor when and where brain activity increased as they moved along the track in search of chocolate rewards. About every seven seconds, the rats stopped moving forward and turned their heads to the perimeter of the room as they investigated the different landmarks, a behavior called “head-scanning.”
“We found that many cells that were previously silent would suddenly start firing during a specific head-scanning event,” said Knierim. “On the very next lap around the track, many of these cells had a brand new place field at that exact same location and this place field remained usually for the rest of the laps. We believe that this new place field marks the site of the head scan and allows the brain to form a memory of what it was that the rat experienced during the head scan.”
Knierim said the formation and stability of place fields and the newly-activated place cells requires further study. The research is primarily intended to understand how memories are formed and retrieved under normal circumstances, but it could be applicable to learning more about people with brain trauma or hippocampal damage due to aging or Alzheimer’s.
“There are strong indications that humans and rats share the same spatial mapping functions of the hippocampus, and that these maps are intimately related to how we organize and store our memories of prior life events,” said Knierim. “Since the hippocampus and surrounding brain areas are the first parts of the brain affected in Alzheimer’s, we think that these studies may lend some insight into the severe memory loss that characterizes the early stages of this disease.”
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but if you’re over 24 years of age you’ve already reached your peak in terms of your cognitive motor performance, according to a new Simon Fraser University study.
SFU’s Joe Thompson, a psychology doctoral student, associate professor Mark Blair, Thompson’s thesis supervisor, and Andrew Henrey, a statistics and actuarial science doctoral student, deliver the news in a just-published PLOS ONE Journal paper.
In one of the first social science experiments to rest on big data, the trio investigates when we start to experience an age-related decline in our cognitive motor skills and how we compensate for that.
The researchers analyzed the digital performance records of 3,305 StarCraft 2 players, aged 16 to 44. StarCraft 2 is a ruthless competitive intergalactic computer war game that players often undertake to win serious money.
Their performance records, which can be readily replayed, constitute big data because they represent thousands of hours worth of strategic real-time cognitive-based moves performed at varied skill levels.
Using complex statistical modeling, the researchers distilled meaning from this colossal compilation of information about how players responded to their opponents and more importantly, how long they took to react.
“After around 24 years of age, players show slowing in a measure of cognitive speed that is known to be important for performance,” explains Thompson, the lead author of the study, which is his thesis. “This cognitive performance decline is present even at higher levels of skill.”
But there’s a silver lining in this earlier-than-expected slippery slope into old age. “Our research tells a new story about human development,” says Thompson.
“Older players, though slower, seem to compensate by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players, enabling them to retain their skill, despite cognitive motor-speed loss.”
For example, older players more readily use short cut and sophisticated command keys to compensate for declining speed in executing real time decisions.
The findings, says Thompson, suggest “that our cognitive-motor capacities are not stable across our adulthood, but are constantly in flux, and that our day-to-day performance is a result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation.”
Thompson says this study doesn’t inform us about how our increasingly distracting computerized world may ultimately affect our use of adaptive behaviours to compensate for declining cognitive motor skills.
But he does say our increasingly digitized world is providing a growing wealth of big data that will be a goldmine for future social science studies such as this one.
Sleep-dependent memory consolidation and accelerated forgetting
Accelerated long-term forgetting (ALF) is a form of memory impairment in which learning and initial retention of information appear normal but subsequent forgetting is excessively rapid. ALF is most commonly associated with epilepsy and, in particular, a form of late-onset epilepsy called transient epileptic amnesia (TEA). ALF provides a novel opportunity to investigate post-encoding memory processes, such as consolidation. Sleep is implicated in the consolidation of memory in healthy people and a deficit in sleep-dependent memory consolidation has been proposed as an explanation for ALF. If this proposal were correct, then sleep would not benefit memory retention in people with ALF as much as in healthy people, and ALF might only be apparent when the retention interval contains sleep. To test this theory, we compared performance on a sleep-sensitive memory task over a night of sleep and a day of wakefulness. We found, contrary to the hypothesis, that sleep benefits memory retention in TEA patients with ALF and that this benefit is no smaller in magnitude than that seen in healthy controls. Indeed, the patients performed significantly more poorly than the controls only in the wake condition and not the sleep condition. Patients were matched to controls on learning rate, initial retention, and the effect of time of day on cognitive performance. These results indicate that ALF is not caused by a disruption of sleep-dependent memory consolidation. Instead, ALF may be due to an encoding abnormality that goes undetected on behavioural assessments of learning, or by a deficit in memory consolidation processes that are not sleep-dependent.
(Image: Courtney Icenhour)
The very earliest childhood memories might begin even earlier than anyone realized – including the rememberer, his or her parents and memory researchers.
Four- to 13-year-olds in upstate New York and Newfoundland, Canada, probed their memories when researchers asked: “You know, some kids can remember things that happened to them when they were very little. What is the first thing you can remember? How old were you at that time?” The researchers then returned a year or two later to ask again about earliest memories – and at what age the children were when the events occurred.
“The age estimates of earliest childhood memories are not as accurate as what has been generally assumed,” report Qi Wang of Cornell University and Carole Peterson of Memorial University of Newfoundland in the March 2014 online issue of Developmental Psychology. “Using children’s own age estimates as the reference, we found that memory dating shifted to later ages as time elapsed.”
Childhood amnesia refers to our inability to remember events from our first years of life. Until now, cognitive psychologists estimated the so-called childhood amnesia offset at 3.5 years – the average age of our very earliest memory, the authors noted in their report, “Your Earliest Memory May Be Earlier Than You Think: Prospective Studies of Children’s Dating of Earliest Childhood Memories.”
But the children who originally answered, for example, “I think I was 3 years old when my dog fell through the ice,” postdated that same earliest memory by as much as nine months when asked – in follow-up interviews a year or two years later – to recall again. In other words, as time went by, children thought the same memory event occurred at an older age than they had thought previously. And that finding prompts Wang and Peterson to question the 3.5-year offset for childhood amnesia.
“This can happen to adults’ earliest childhood memories, too,” says Wang, professor of human development and director of the Social Cognition Development Laboratory in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. “We all remember some events from our childhood. When we try to reconstruct the time of these events, we may postdate them to be more recent than they actually were, as if we are looking at the events through a telescope. Although none of us can recall events on the day of our birth – childhood amnesia may end somewhat earlier than the generally accepted 3.5 years.”
Parents might help because they have more clues (e.g., where they lived, what their children looked like at the time of events) to put their children’s experiences along a timeline. When asked, for example, “How old was Evan when Poochie fell through the ice?” they erred less than Evan had. Still, they are not free from errors in their time estimates.
The only way to settle that, Wang and Peterson mused, would be to look for documented evidence – a parent’s diary, for instance, or a newspaper account of Poochie’s memorable rescue.
New Studies Show Promise for Brain Training in Improving Fluid Intelligence
Whether computerized games designed by psychologists and neuroscientists can literally make people smarter has been hotly debated by scientists, with a small but outspoken cadre of skeptics demanding stronger proof. Now two new studies have found the kind of real-world benefits from the brain-training games that skeptics have been calling for.
The first, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that less than six hours of brain games played over the course of 10 weeks enabled poor first-graders who attend school irregularly due to family problems to catch up with their regularly-attending peers in math and language grades.
The second, presented over the weekend at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting in Boston, combined the results of 13 previous studies of computerized brain-training in young adults to conclude that training significantly enhances fluid intelligence—the fundamental human ability to detect patterns, reason, and learn. That is, practicing the games literally makes people smarter.
Together with other recent studies demonstrating real-world benefits of brain training in healthy older adults, preschoolers, and school children with ADHD, the new papers appear to provide fresh ammunition to psychologists and neuroscientists whose research has been under attack by a handful of skeptics who insist that the training is a waste of time.
Regular aerobic exercise seems to boost the size of the area of the brain (hippocampus) involved in verbal memory and learning among women whose intellectual capacity has been affected by age, indicates a small study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The hippocampus has become a focus of interest in dementia research because it is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning, but it is very sensitive to the effects of ageing and neurological damage.
The researchers tested the impact of different types of exercise on the hippocampal volume of 86 women who said they had mild memory problems, known as mild cognitive impairment - and a common risk factor for dementia.
All the women were aged between 70 and 80 years old and were living independently at home.
Roughly equal numbers of them were assigned to either twice weekly hour long sessions of aerobic training (brisk walking); or resistance training, such as lunges, squats, and weights; or balance and muscle toning exercises, for a period of six months.
The size of their hippocampus was assessed at the start and the end of the six month period by means of an MRI scan, and their verbal memory and learning capacity was assessed before and afterward using a validated test (RAVLT).
Only 29 of the women had before and after MRI scans, but the results showed that the total volume of the hippocampus in the group who had completed the full six months of aerobic training was significantly larger than that of those who had lasted the course doing balance and muscle toning exercises.
No such difference in hippocampal volume was seen in those doing resistance training compared with the balance and muscle toning group.
However, despite an earlier finding in the same sample of women that aerobic exercise improved verbal memory, there was some evidence to suggest that an increase in hippocampal volume was associated with poorer verbal memory.
This suggests that the relationship between brain volume and cognitive performance is complex, and requires further research, say the authors.
But at the very least, aerobic exercise seems to be able to slow the shrinkage of the hippocampus and maintain the volume in a group of women who are at risk of developing dementia, they say.
And they recommend regular aerobic exercise to stave off mild cognitive decline, which is especially important, given the mounting evidence showing that regular exercise is good for cognitive function and overall brain health, and the rising toll of dementia.
Worldwide, one new case of dementia is diagnosed every four seconds, with the number of those afflicted set to rise to more than 115 million by 2050, they point out.
Older people who are starting to have memory and thinking problems, but do not yet have dementia may have a lower risk of dying from cancer than people who have no memory and thinking problems, according to a study published in the April 9, 2014, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“Studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease are less likely to develop cancer, but we don’t know the reason for that link,” said study author Julián Benito-León, MD, PhD, of University Hospital 12 of October in Madrid, Spain. “One possibility is that cancer is underdiagnosed in people with dementia, possibly because they are less likely to mention their symptoms or caregivers and doctors are focused on the problems caused by dementia. The current study helps us discount that theory.”
The study involved 2,627 people age 65 and older in Spain who did not have dementia at the start of the study. They took tests of memory and thinking skills at the start of the study and again three years later, and were followed for an average of almost 13 years. The participants were divided into three groups: those whose scores on the thinking tests were declining the fastest, those whose scores improved on the tests, and those in the middle.
During the study, 1,003 of the participants died, including 339 deaths, or 34 percent, among those with the fastest decline in thinking skills and 664 deaths, or 66 percent, among those in the other two groups. A total of 21 percent of those in the group with the fastest decline died of cancer, according to their death certificates, compared to 29 percent of those in the other two groups.
People in the fastest declining group were still 30 percent less likely to die of cancer when the results were adjusted to control for factors such as smoking, diabetes and heart disease, among others.
“We need to understand better the relationship between a disease that causes abnormal cell death and one that causes abnormal cell growth,” Benito-León said. “With the increasing number of people with both dementia and cancer, understanding this association could help us better understand and treat both diseases.”
The sense of smell might seem intuitive, almost something you take for granted. But researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center have found that memory of specific odors depends on the ability of the brain to learn, process and recall accurately and effectively during slow-wave sleep — a deep sleep characterized by slow brain waves.
The sense of smell is one of the first things to fail in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia. Indeed, down the road, if more can be learned from better understanding of how the brain processes odors, researchers believe it could lead to novel therapies that target specific neurons in the brain, perhaps enhancing memory consolidation and memory accuracy.
Reporting in the Journal of Neuroscience online April 9, researchers in the lab of Donald A. Wilson, PhD, a professor in the departments of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Physiology at NYU Langone, and a research scientist at the NYU-affiliated Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, showed in experiments with rats that odor memory was strengthened when odors sensed the previous day were replayed during sleep. Memories deepened more when odor reinforcement occurred during sleep than when rats were awake.
When the memory of a specific odor learned when the rats were awake was replayed during slow-wave sleep, they achieved a stronger memory for that odor the next day, compared to rats that received no replay, or only received replay when they were awake.
However, when the research team exposed the rats to replay during sleep of an odor pattern that they had not previously learned, the rats had false memories to many different odors. When the research team pharmacologically prevented neurons from communicating to each other during slow-wave sleep, the accuracy of memory of the odor was also impaired.
The rats were initially trained to recognize odors through conditioning. Using electrodes in the olfactory bulb, a part of the brain responsible for perceiving smells, the researchers stimulated different smell perceptions, according to precise patterns of electrical stimulation. Then, by replaying the patterns electrically, they were able to test the effects of slow-wave sleep manipulation.
Replay of learned electrical odors during slow-wave sleep enhanced the memory for those odors. When the learned smells were replayed while the rats were awake, the strength of the memory decreased. Finally, when a false pattern that the rat never learned was incorporated, the rats could not discriminate the smell accurately from the learned odor.
“Our findings confirm the importance of brain activity during sleep for both memory strength and accuracy,” says Dr. Wilson, the study’s senior author. “What we think is happening is that during slow-wave sleep, neurons in the brain communicate with each other, and in doing so, strengthen their connections, permitting storage of specific information.”
Dr. Wilson says these findings are the first to demonstrate that memory accuracy, not just memory strength, is altered during short-wave sleep. In future research, Dr. Wilson and his team hope to examine how sleep disorders affect memory and perception.
Babies and young children make giant developmental leaps all of the time. Sometimes, it seems, even overnight they figure out how to recognize certain shapes or what the word “no” means no matter who says it. It turns out that making those leaps could be a nap away: New research finds that infants who nap are better able to apply lessons learned to new skills, while preschoolers are better able to retain learned knowledge after napping.
“Sleep plays a crucial role in learning from early in development,” says Rebecca Gómez of the University of Arizona. She will be presenting her new work, which looks specifically at how sleep enables babies and young children to learn language over time, at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) annual meeting in Boston today, as part of a symposium on sleep and memory.
“We want to show that sleep is not just a necessary evil for the organism to stay functional,” says Susanne Diekelmann of the University of Tübingen in Germany who is chairing the symposium. “Sleep is an active state that is essential for the formation of lasting memories.”
A growing body of research shows how memories become reactivated during sleep, and new work is shedding light on exactly when and how memories get stored and reactivated. “Sleep is a highly selective state that preferentially strengthens memories that are relevant for our future behavior,” Diekelmann says. “Sleep can also abstract general rules from single experiences, which helps us to deal more efficiently with similar situations in the future.”