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Alzheimer's may leave some forms of memory intact

d their study to compare the implicit memory capabilities of younger and older people both with and without Alzheimer's symptoms. Lustig and Buckner presented the subjects with a series of words and asked them to decide whether the words represented living or non-living objects. They also hoped that their studies would provide a clearer picture of the regions of the brain that are employed in such tasks.

"For this task, we found that all three groups showed a significant reduction with practice in the time required to decide on a word, which is the hallmark of implicit learning," said Buckner. While the younger adults were faster in performing the tasks, all three groups showed a robust reduction in time with practice, he said.

The researchers next asked the subjects to repeat the classification task as their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging. "What was surprising and novel in this study is that the brain region with the greatest activity during the task was the high-level region of the frontal cortex," said Buckner. "We didn't expect this because high-level cognition is affected in Alzheimer's disease. These results suggest that despite the damage to these areas in Alzheimer's, certain memory processes that seem to depend on them remain fundamentally intact."

The researchers found that the reduction in time required to perform the classification task correlated with a reduction in activity in frontal cortex. This reduction is a characteristic property of a brain region that is adjusting its activity to function more efficiently as it becomes accustomed to a particular task. "This finding suggests there is a link -- although it doesn't prove it -- between activity reductions in frontal cortex and this type of learning," said Buckner.

Although the findings are preliminary, Buckner believes the studies point to a promising approach for training and rehabilitat
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
9-Jun-2004


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