A study led by a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist and published in the May 10 issue of the journal Neuron suggests a potential new therapeutic approach for improving memory and interrupting disease progression in patients with a form of cognitive impairment that often leads to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease.
The focus of the study was “excess brain activity” commonly associated with conditions that cause mild cognitive decline and memory loss, and are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Previously, it had been thought that this neural hyperactivity in the hippocampus was the brain’s attempt to compensate for a weakness in forming new memories. Instead, the team found that this excess activity is contributing to conditions such as amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), in which patients’ memories are worse than would be expected in healthy people the same age.
“In the case of aMCI, it has been suggested that the increased hippocampal activation may serve a beneficial function by recruiting additional neural ‘resources’ to compensate for those that are lost,” explains lead author Michela Gallagher, the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “However, animal studies have raised the alternative view that this excess activation may be contributing to memory impairment.”