A Baylor University researcher has discovered a method by which cognitive decline is reversed in mice.
In the new study, Joaquin Lugo, Ph.D., discovered that missing potassium channels in the brain caused mice to be unable to navigate using spatial cues. These mice also showed showed diminished learning ability in an experiment dealing with fear conditioning.
The findings may have implications for humans with damage to the hippocampus, a brain structure critical to memory and learning, said Lugo.
“By targeting chemical pathways that alter those potassium channels, we may eventually be able to apply the findings to humans and reverse some of the cognitive deficits in people with epilepsy and other neurological disorders,” Lugo said.
The findings are published online in the journal Learning & Memory.
The channel, called Kv4.2, delivers potassium, which aids neuron function in the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus forms memory for long-term storage in the brain. Potassium also helps to regulate excitability of neurons.
Individuals who have epilepsy sometimes exhibit altered or missing Kv.4.2 channels or similar types of channels.
In the study, researchers investigated navigational capabilities using “knockout” mice — those without the channel. These mice were tested in a water maze four feet in diameter and 12 inches deep, with eight trials daily — each lasting about a minute — over four days. Their performance was compared with that of normal mice.
Both groups responded to visual cues — colored symbols — in learning their way around the maze, but the knockout mice did not respond as well as the normal mice in terms of spatial cues — hidden platforms in the water.
“When the mice don’t have this channel, it hurts their ability to learn,” Lugo said.
Source: Baylor University