The July 27 edition of the journal Nature published a study conducted by Yale University researchers that demonstrated that neural networks in brains of middle-aged and elderly individuals have weaker connectivity and fire with less strength than do brains in younger people. The study also suggests that weaker connections in the neural network and decreased strength of firing can be reversed.
The study investigated the activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), in which higher cognitive and executive functions are regulated. Neurons in the PFC fire consistently to allow individuals to store information at hand, or have it on quick recall even when physical cues are not in the environment. The ability to keep information “on deck” is called “working memory,” and must be constantly updated. The PFC is the area of the brain responsible for organization, multi-tasking, regulating one’s thoughts and speech and engaging in abstract thought and reasoning.
There are many common cognitive deficits associated with aging, among them difficulty with executive function and the tendency to forget information.
Amy Arnsten, a study author, Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology and a member of the Kavli Institute for Neuroscience, stated, “Age-related cognitive deficits can have a serious impact on our lives in the Information Age as people often need higher cognitive functions to meet even basic needs, such as paying bills or accessing medical care. These abilities are critical for maintaining demanding careers and being able to live independently as we grow older.”
Arnsten and her colleagues examined the firing of neurons in the PFC in young, middle-aged and elderly animals as they completed a task involving working memory. The neurons in young animals’ PFC could fire at a high rate while using working memory, but those of older animals decreased firing rates. Researchers adjusted the neurochemical environment around the neurons in the older animals’ PFCs to resemble those of younger animals, which resulted in increased neuronal firing rates in the older animals.
Specifically, gaining PFC accumulates a signaling molecule called cAMP. The excess of cAMP opens ion channels and weakens PFC neuronal firing. Blocking or otherwise inhibiting cAMP-sensitive ion channels restored neuronal firing rates to that of youthful firing patterns.
These results indicate that memory loss and other cognitive deficits associated with aging can be reversed. Yale is initiating clinical studies on agents that were successful in blocking cAMP-sensitive ion channels in order to understand how the initial study’s findings can be transferred to the general population.
Brainjogging, too, reverses memory loss and other cognitive deficits associated with aging. A small cohort of individuals at Vernon Woods Retirement Community in LaGrange, Georgia have experienced increased retention and daily functioning as a result of Brainjogging twice daily.