Memory decline is a part of aging for most people, but very few treatments are available to reverse this loss because the deeper cellular mechanisms underlying memory formation are not fully known.
A new paper from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), led by Professor of Psychology Karyn Frick, identifies a new cellular mechanism necessary for memory.
Frick and her team investigated a cell-signaling pathway in the hippocampus – an area of the brain critical to learning and memory – and found that it must be activated for learning and memory to take place. Findings were recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
The “Wnt signaling pathway” has been associated with learning and shown to play a role in neuron development, but not specifically in memory formation.
Using female mice, the team found that learning about objects not only activated the canonical Wnt pathway in the hippocampus, but also that Wnt signaling was necessary for the mice to form a memory of the objects. These data suggest a vital new role for this molecular pathway in hippocampal memory formation.
Because Wnt signaling is impaired in aging and Alzheimer’s disease, these findings point to Wnt signaling as a new target for drug discovery.
“This information is essential for understanding what happens in the brain when memory formation doesn’t happen properly, like during aging and in Alzheimer’s disease,” says Frick. “The goal of my lab’s research is to identify the specific molecules in the brain that are necessary for memory formation, which could lead to the development of new drugs for age-related memory loss that target these specific molecules.”
Now Frick’s team plans to determine whether treatments that activate canonical Wnt signaling can reverse memory deficits in aged female mice.
Other authors of the paper included Ashley Fortress, Sarah Schram and Jennifer Tuscher in Frick’s lab. This study was funded by UWM and by an Ellison Medical Foundation/American Federation for Aging Research Postdoctoral Fellowship in Aging.