Scientists at the University of Maryland have solved the mystery of facial memory loss, when a person cannot remember the appearance of another person with whom they spoke just a few hours ago.
This is reported by many media. But when you read further, you understand that the problem is somewhat different. After all, the experiment, published in the journal Aging Cell, was carried out on mice. And for sure, they will not be able to determine in the study not only human faces, but also their muzzles. However, the work of scientists is still interesting and especially promising in terms of creating drugs that improve memory.
Memory is a tangle of associations
The study concerns the so-called associative memory. It is able to recognize and memorize unrelated words, texts, facts, etc. Thanks to it, we can more easily retrieve the necessary information from memory, and the more extensive the network of associative links a person has, the better he remembers and then more easily remembers that need. This is the most important memory for us, it underlies our opinions, judgments, tastes, etc. Associative memory is the basis of our value system. Thinking, perception of the world and decision making are connected with it.
The associations that arise in the learning process have a biological basis, and this is precisely what American neuroscientists have studied. They work not only at the University of Maryland, as the news assured us, but also at the University of South Carolina. Their experiment is very complicated, but here is the main thing that they found: the deterioration of associative memory with age (this process is well known) is associated with an increase in the activity of the gene encoding the synthesis of a special protein PDE11A4.
On the waves of our memory
The protein itself works exclusively in the hippocampus. This is the name of the brain structure, similar in shape to a seahorse (in Latin it is called the hippocampus) and responsible for the associative memory of a person. And so, this indirectly indicates the involvement of PDE11A4 in the mechanisms of memory regulation.
But scientists have also shown that inhibiting the activity of this protein improves associative memory. And, therefore, its role in memory can be considered proven. And since this gene and protein are present in both mice and humans, the experimental data can be transferred to humans.
Another value of the study is that the PDE11A protein is an enzyme for which it is relatively easy to develop a drug that will regulate its activity. And if a PDE11A inhibitor is created, then by inhibiting the activity of the enzyme, it will be able to improve associative memory in humans. This is the next goal of the researchers.