Alzheimer's Patients May Be Able To Recover 'Lost' Memories

Research on mice is offering hope that memories lost to dementia could be found again.
Andrew Bret Wallis via Getty Images

While much of the research into Alzheimer's Disease and dementia centers on the prevention or slowing the rate of disease progression, researchers at MIT pose a very tantalizing question: What if the memories that are lost to these diseases could be recovered?

The MIT neuroscientists reported in the journal Nature that mice in the early stages of Alzheimer's can form new memories just as well as normal mice, but cannot recall them a few days later. But they were able to artificially stimulate those memories using a technique known as optogenetics, planting the idea that those memories could still be retrieved with a little help. While optogenetics cannot currently be used in humans, the findings raise the hope -- and possibility -- that future treatments might indeed reverse some of the memory loss in early-stage Alzheimer's patients, the researchers say.

"The important point is, this a proof of concept. That is, even if a memory seems to be gone, it is still there. It's a matter of how to retrieve it," says senior author Susumu Tonegawa from RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics, in a press release.

According to Tonegawa, it's possible that in the future some technology will be developed to activate or inactivate cells deep inside the brain.

This study follows on the heels of one from UCLA, which also examined memory recovery. In that 2014 research, it was determined that just because Alzheimer's is known to destroy synapses in the brain doesn’t mean that memories are destroyed.

“As long as the neurons are still alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” researcher David Glanzman said at the time, noting that at later stages of the disease, neurons die, which likely means that the memories cannot be recovered.

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