Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the two most common neurodegenerative disorders worldwide and cause untold suffering to millions of patients and their families. Treatments for these diseases are limited, and no cures exist. Now, a new study describes an innovative strategy that reverses symptoms in these neurodegenerative diseases – at least in fruit flies which had been genetically altered to model the diseases.
“The novel approach we used has significant translational implications,” said one of the lead authors, Robert Schwarcz, a researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “If we can duplicate these effects in patients, we could benefit a lot of people.”
Schwarcz collaborated with geneticist Flaviano Giorgini at the University of Leicester in England. The study was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers focused on metabolites related to the amino acid tryptophan. When tryptophan degrades in the body, it breaks down into several compounds that have biological activities in the nervous system. One of these, 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK), has neurotoxic properties whereas another, named kynurenic acid (KYNA), has the ability to prevent nerve cell degeneration. The relative abundance of these two compounds in the brain may be critical in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and also Huntington’s disease.
Schwarcz, Giorgini and their colleagues gave the insects a chemical that selectively inhibits tryptophan-2,3-dioxygenase (TDO), an enzyme that controls the relationship between 3-HK and KYNA. This treatment shifted metabolism towards more KYNA, improved movement, and lengthened lifespan in the fly models of the diseases.
“A key finding of our study is that we can improve “symptoms” in fruit fly models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease by feeding them a drug-like chemical,” said another co-author, Carlo Breda of the University of Leicester. “Our experiments have identified TDO as a very promising new drug target.”
The next steps will involve testing of the new concept in humans and to examine whether the treatment works for neurodegenerative diseases.
Source: David Kohn – University of Maryland School of Medicine
Image Source: The image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Tryptophan-2,3-dioxygenase (TDO) inhibition ameliorates neurodegeneration by modulation of kynurenine pathway metabolites” by Carlo Breda, Korrapati V. Sathyasaikumar, Shama Sograte Idrissi, Francesca M. Notarangelo, Jasper G. Estranero, Gareth G. L. Moore, Edward W. Green, Charalambos P. Kyriacou, Robert Schwarcz, and Flaviano Giorgini in PNAS. Published online April 25 2016 doi:10.1073/pnas.1604453113
Memory recall ‘better when eyes shut’
Scientists tested people’s ability to remember details of films showing fake crime scenes.
They hope the studies will help witnesses recall details more accurately when questioned by police.
They say establishing a rapport with the person asking the questions can also help boost memory.
Removing distractionWriting in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology, scientists tested 178 participants in two separate experiments.
In the first, they asked volunteers to watch a film showing an electrician entering a property, carrying out work and then stealing a number of items.
Volunteers were then questioned in one of four groups. People were either asked questions with their eyes open or closed, and after a sense of rapport had been built with the interviewer or no attempt had been made to create a friendly introduction.
People who had some rapport with their interviewer and had their eyes shut throughout questioning answered three-quarters of the 17 questions correctly.
But those who did not have a friendly introduction with the interviewer and had their eyes open answered 41% correctly.
The analysis showed that eye closing had the strongest impact on remembering details correctly ,but that feeling comfortable during the interview also helped.
In the second experiment, people were asked to remember details of what they had heard during a mock crime scene.
Sound recall Again closing their eyes and having a sense of rapport with the interviewer helped people recall more details than participants in all other groups.
Lead researcher Dr Robert Nash, said: “Our data and other data before us points towards eye closure helping because it removes distraction.
“Closing your eyes might also help people visualise the details of the event they are trying to remember, but our second experiment suggests keeping your eyes shut can help focus on audio information too.
“The mechanisms we identified ought to apply to other contexts, for example trying to remember details of a lecture.”
Prof Tim Hollins, of Plymouth University, provided an independent comment: “This adds to the growing body of research that eye closure might be a useful technique that police may want to use.
“The other nice thing about this piece of work is that they have looked at rapport building too.
“This data shows the benefit of eye closure and rapport building added together rather than cancelled each other out as some people previously feared.”
Human brain keeps memories tidy by pruning inaccurate ones
Every Child Can Win the Memory Game
As a student, I had great difficulty concentrating during lesson time and consequently didn’t retain much knowledge. I was diagnosed with dyslexia and had the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. Academic information just didn’t get through to me. Here are samples of reports that my teachers sent home when I was ten:
- “He tends to dream in the middle of a calculation which leads him to lose track of the thought.”
- “Has not paid much attention. Appears to know more of the Universe than the Earth.” (This was a veiled reference to daydreaming from my Geography teacher.)
- “Terribly slow. Often cannot repeat the question. Must concentrate.”
- “Unless Dominic really shakes himself up and gets down to work, he is not going to achieve any success . . . he is painfully slow.”
The comments contained no evidence that I would one day become an eight-time World Memory Champion and author of over a dozen books and courses on memory training. So what happened?
In 1987, aged 30, I watched a man on television memorize a shuffled deck of playing cards in just under three minutes. As corny as it may sound, that moment changed my life.
I taught myself to memorize playing cards and realized that the strategy I was developing could be used to remember anything. Today, when I appear on TV and radio shows all over the world, one question is always asked: “Why don’t they teach this stuff in schools?” Had I acquired those skills when I was at school, I would have achieved exam success, gone onto higher education, and actually enjoyed the learning process. Instead, I suffered low self-esteem and dropped out of school when I was 16.
Schools Memory Championships
In 2008, I co-founded the U.K. Schools Memory Championships along with Tony Buzan, the inventor of mind-mapping, and chess Grandmaster Raymond Keene. Rather than just going into a school and entertaining students with a few memory tricks, the aim was to embed powerful memory techniques into the minds of students by getting them to play “The Game of Memory” for themselves. These memory workshops are proven to boost young people’s self esteem, confidence and motivation to learn, and they provide tools to help improve overall achievement and exam performance.
Thinking back to when I was at school, I don’t recall a single lesson devoted entirely to the subject of memory. I can vaguely remember being given the acronym “Richard Of York Goes Battling In Vain” to remember the colors of the rainbow, but that was about it.
Having helped establish the teaching of memory skills the U.K. schools, I now find it completely illogical to expect a child to learn any subject without first teaching how to learn and how to remember. Read more…