Prolonged exposure to a stimulating environment may help in delaying one of the factors associated with the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The study, which was published in the March 6 issue of Neuron, tested the impact of environment on the memory of mice.
Researchers discovered that positive stimulation by an enriching environment activated specific adrenalin-related receptors in the brains of mice. This in turn prevented the amyloid beta protein, a macromolecule which tends to weaken the signaling between neurons, from damaging communication between nerve cells associated with memory function in the brain’s hippocampus. Because of this, memory was less impaired.
The amyloid beta protein functions the same way in the brains of humans and mice. Thus, according to Shaomon Li, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead author, the research may have strong implications on the humans experience with Alzheimer’s disease.
“This suggests that if we can have more brain activity, we can prevent or delay the Alzheimer disease onset,” Li said.
The findings could possibly help to weaken a person’s likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s disease, now the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. Though Alzheimer’s disease has no known cure, such research may also impact the treatment available for the large population of people currently suffering from the form of dementia, including an estimated 5.2 million individuals of all ages in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Previous research has named physical exercise, intellectual stimulation, and social experience as factors which could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The new study suggests that forms of mental stimulation in an enriched environment, particularly in an educational context, may also contribute the positive effect of increased brain activity.
Currently, Li is continuing the research to examine whether agonists, substances which imitate the functioning of natural chemicals, may be able to mimic an enriched environment and thus artificially produce the same cognitive benefits in memory as a naturally enriched environment.