Better tie that string around your finger a little tighter.
It may turn out the reason some people grow increasingly forgetful as they age is less about how old they are and more about subtle changes in the way the brain files memories and makes room for new ones - differences perhaps better blamed on patterns of cell-to-cell communication than the number of birthday candles decorating the cake.
A researcher with the McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida has found that rats become forgetful because a routine part of the memory process falls out of kilter, no matter their ages.
This change seems to be related to the chemicals necessary for brain cells to communicate with each other. The findings, published this month in the online edition of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, expand the possibility that drugs or therapies could be developed to tune up the brains memory mechanisms.
Aging is associated with an increased rate of forgetting, said Thomas Foster, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight chair for brain research in memory loss at the College of Medicine. My work indicates that the problem may be a slight shift in a normal forgetting mechanism.
Scientists believe a memory forms when communication increases between brain cells called neurons. During memory formation, signals jump across narrow gaps between cells called synapses, and this output becomes increasingly larger.
But for this activity to efficiently create a memory, it helps if signaling decreases among less-involved neurons. Its like quieting other people in the room so you can have a phone conversation. Scientists call the process of decreasing the signal at less-involved synapses long-term depression, or LTD.
This is a normal process that helps with the sculpting of memory, Foster said. After all, we do not remember everything in perfect detail and we would not want to. This same mechanism probably is used to clear
Contact: April Birdwell
University of Florida