Light therapy shows promise in activating memories lost due to Alzheimer's

- Researchers have successfully activated feelings from lost memories among mice genetically engineered to have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease by using a light stimulation therapy developed in 2012. Although the therapy, called optogenetics, can only be used in mice, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said the therapy could offer promise for people suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, a condition that affects an estimated 200,000 Americans.

“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,” senior study author Susumu Tonegawa, the Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said in a news release.

Tonegawa’s lab previously identified cells in the brain’s hippocampus that hold certain memories. They also have shown that these memory traces, called engrams, can be exploited to activate existing memories or alter a memory’s emotional associations, as well as plant false memories.

In their paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, scientists found that mice with retrograde amnesia had impaired memory but could still form new memories, so they wondered if the same was true among mice with Alzheimer’s, which causes similar problems with memory.

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