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One of the most common HIV drugs was able to improve memory linked to aging in mice, showing that it may aid people with age-related memory loss, too.
Memory Storage in the Brain
Instead of storing all of our memories independently, our brains attach those related in chronological order — when someone recalls a significant one, it triggers them to remember related ones then as well.
As people age, the brain gets worse at linking memories — people may remember a face, not the name associated with it, or know that we have heard something but not be able to remember where we heard it.
CCR5 Gene Expression
The body naturally produces a protein (CCR5) that interferes with the linking of them — this may seem like a bug, but it is a feature.
From research previously done, the UCLA research team knew that the CCR5 gene expresses more of the protein as we age and that this increased expression restricts linking memory.
For the study, the research team increased the expression of CCR5 in rats and deleted the CCR5 gene in others. They used two cages to test the animals’ skills to make memory connections between events and places.
The CCR5-increased animals had issues connecting them between the two cages. At the same time, the rats without the CCR5 gene were better at connecting memories than normal rats — this established that manipulating CCR5 can improve or delay memory linking.
For the other part of the study, the scientists gave rats the drug maraviroc, which the FDA approved for the therapy of HIV in 2007. Maraviroc blocks the receptor in the brain that HIV uses to infect them and causes memory loss — that happens to be the same brain receptor CCR5 uses.
The scientists think maraviroc may be able to increase linking in people who are experiencing memory loss in middle age, maybe due to dementia. It may also improve memory in those who have had strokes, often followed by an increase in the CCR5 gene.