Memory Loss May Be Linked To Gene Expression, New Research Suggests

November 26, 1996

ATHENS, Ohio -- Researchers at Ohio University have found preliminary evidence that suggests memory loss associated with aging may be connected to a malfunction in gene expression.

Studies of brain tissues of old and young mice revealed unidentified sequences of DNA that expressed differently in the tissues of old mice who had been shown to have significant memory loss. Scientists think the chains of DNA might represent genes that control spatial memory in mice, which parallels declarative memory in humans.

The research was presented Nov. 19 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.

"If we can identify the gene and the protein the gene produces, we could possibly design therapies that could be beneficial to individuals who experience some cognitive loss with aging," said Robert Colvin, associate professor of pharmacology at Ohio University. Colvin is principal investigator on the project.

People usually express declarative memory verbally, forming relationships between facts and information based on learned concepts. The researchers think animals express this type of memory spatially, by forming relationships among objects based on their location.

In studies of groups of old and young mice, the scientists found that 30 to 40 percent of the old mice had a decline in spatial memory. The decline could be caused by problems in gene expression, Colvin said.

"It's important to note that these DNA sequences aren't genes yet -- we have to get them to produce a protein first. But it's a logical conclusion that the DNA will make a protein," he said.

Once researchers determine the DNA sequence and confirm that the genes are expressed in mice as well as in cell cultures, they can search a library of identified genes to find out whether the genes they've found have been previously identified, or if they are new genes.

If spatial memory decline in mice is caused by changes in gene expression, identifying the genes in question is the first step toward developing a treatment to correct the malfunctions in gene expression, Colvin said.

Linda Bellush, associate professor of psychology, and John Kopchick, professor of molecular biology, are co-investigators on the project.

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Contact: Robert Colvin, 614-593-0198;

Written by Kelli Whitlock, 614-593-0383;

Ohio University

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