MIT Researchers Believe Targeting Treatments to This Brain Circuit May Reverse Memory Decline

As we age, our memory retention often declines. This makes performing everyday tasks difficult. It is very difficult to remember things. For example, afternoon seniors can forget what they had for breakfast. They may find it difficult to remember a conversation they had with someone. One of the main brain regions associated with this type of memory is the anterior thalamus, which is primarily involved in remembering our surroundings and how to navigate them. The thalamus is an egg-shaped structure in the middle of the brain whose primary function is to transmit incoming sensory information—such as hearing, taste, sight, and touch—from the body to the brain. However, it does not convey information regarding smell.

In a recent study in mice, researchers identified a circuit in the anterior thalamus that is key to remembering how to navigate a maze. They found that this circuit is usually impaired in older mice. But if the activity of this circuit is enhanced, it greatly improves the mice’s ability to run the maze correctly.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) focused on this area of ​​the brain in their study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and say this could be an ideal target for treatments to reverse memory loss in older adults.

They say that if a non-invasive or minimally invasive technique is developed to target treatments in this part of the human brain, it could provide a way to help prevent age-related memory loss.

Guoping Feng, the study’s lead author, said that rather than affecting the prefrontal cortex, which has many distinct roles, they wanted to uncover more specific and receptive targets in this area by studying how the thalamus affects cortical output.

The advantage of targeting the thalamus for treatment is that it limits potential disruptions to other parts of the brain.

We can trigger anxiety-related behavior by directly activating neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex, said Ying Zhang, the study’s lead author, but this would not happen with AV (anterior central) activation.

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