A lost memory may not be lost for good. That's the takeaway from a "radical" new study that's transforming how scientists view long-term memory and giving hope to early Alzheimer's patients. Many neuroscientists have long-believed that memories are held in the connections between brain cells, known as synapses, which are degraded by Alzheimer's disease. But new research out of UCLA has turned that idea on its head, EurekAlert reports. It offers evidence that long-term memory is actually stored elsewhere and, most importantly, "the nervous system appears to be able to regenerate lost synaptic connections," a study author says. He adds it's "possible" that a lost memory will resurface "if you can restore the synaptic connections."
Researchers base this conclusion on a study of the Aplysia marine snail, which has cellular and molecular processes similar to humans. In experiments with the snail, as well as neurons in a petri dish, researchers found synapses to be crucial in the creation of memories, but not in their storage. In fact, attempts to disrupt synaptic function with protein inhibitors left long-term memories intact, UPI reports. The study author guesses memories are stored "in the nucleus of the neurons. We haven't proved that, though," he says. If he's correct, "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." In the later stages of the disease, unfortunately, neurons do die. (Have a bad memory? Chocolate may help.)