Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Drug Enhances Memory in Rats, Researchers Find Side Effects a Question, They Say

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Drug Enhances Memory in Rats, Researchers Find Side Effects a Question, They Say

Article excerpt

Scientists say they have found a drug that greatly enhances memory in laboratory animals.

The experiments are important because drugs to improve memory have been sought for many years without much success, and because the drug is the first in a new class that stimulates the operation of neurons in the brain rather than dampening them, as other psychiatric drugs do.

The drug enables neurons to form more efficient connections. More or less permanent links between neurons allow them to be reactivated easily, and this reactivation constitutes memory.

A report on the research will appear Tuesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors of the report were Dr. Gary Lynch of the University of California at Irvine, Dr. Ursula Staubli of New York University and Dr. Gary Rogers of the University of California at Santa Barbara.

In the study, rats were given doses of the drug just before they were given tasks to learn. A second group of rats did not get the drug, but were also given the tasks.

There were three memory tasks. In one task, the animals were trained to tell the difference between two smells. If they went toward the source of one, they received a reward, and if they searched out the other, there was none.

Dr. Staubli said: "After five or 10 exposures to the odors, the rats will remember which is the good one and which is the bad one for months.

It is a long-term memory task. We gave the drug to some of the rats before they went into the task, and they were able to learn it faster. It took half the amount of training for them to acquire a stable memory."

A second test was carried out in a circular maze with eight passageways with hiding places at the ends. The rats first learned through daily trips to the maze where the eight hiding places were and that there would be chocolate chips or sugar-coated cereal hidden there.

Soon they visited each of the eight hiding places to get the treats, making no detours.

Then, the experimenters put the rats in the maze, and allowed them to uncover only four treats before they were taken back to their home cage for a time out. After four hours, if they were put back in the maze, they remembered well which four hiding places they had checked and went immediately to the next four.

But after eight hours, the memory was gone, and they began to search randomly again. But if the drug was given just before the rats were set in the maze, even after eight hours the rats remembered nearly perfectly where they had already visited and where the four undiscovered treats still lay.

"There was a very dramatic improvement in their memory on these two tasks," Staubli said. The rats that received the drug did better than those without it on the third test as well, but only by relatively small amounts. That test involved having to swim to a hidden platform remembered from previous swims. …

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