Memory was improved in mice injected with a small, drug-like molecule discovered by University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) researchers studying how cells respond to biological stress. The same biochemical pathway the molecule acts on might one day be targeted in humans to improve memory, according to the senior author of the study, Peter Walter, Ph.D., UCSF professor of biochemistry and biophysics and a Howard Hughes Investigator. The discovery of the molecule and the results of the subsequent memory tests in mice were published in eLife, an online scientific open-access journal, on May 28, 2013. In one memory test included in the study, normal mice were able to relocate a submerged platform about three times faster after receiving injections of the potent chemical than mice that received sham injections. The mice that received the chemical also better remembered cues associated with unpleasant stimuli – the sort of fear conditioning that could help a mouse avoid being preyed upon. Notably, the findings suggest that despite what would seem to be the importance of having the best biochemical mechanisms to maximize the power of memory, evolution does not seem to have provided them, Dr. Walter said. "It appears that the process of evolution has not optimized memory consolidation; otherwise I don't think we could have improved upon it the way we did in our study with normal, healthy mice," Dr. Walter said. The memory-boosting chemical was singled out from among 100,000 chemicals screened at the Small Molecule Discovery Center at UCSF for their potential to perturb a protective biochemical pathway within cells that is activated when cells are unable to keep up with the need to fold proteins into their working forms.
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