PKR-Inhibiting Drugs May Boost Memory

Suppression of the molecule PKR (the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase) may help in the formation of long-term memory in the brain, according to researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine.

( Suppression of the PKR molecule
in mutant mice (right) enhances learning
and memory by lowering GABA release,
compared to the process in "wild type"
(normal) mice (left))

"The molecule PKR (the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase) was originally described as a sensor of viral infections, but its function in the brain was totally unknown," said Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, assistant professor of neuroscience at BCM and senior author of the paper. Since the activity of PKR is altered in a variety of cognitive disorders, Costa-Mattioli and colleagues decided to take a closer look at its role in the mammalian brain.

The authors discovered that mice lacking PKR in the brain have a kind of "super" memory. "We found that when we genetically inhibit PKR, we increased the excitability of brain cells and enhanced learning and memory, in a variety of behavioral tests," he said. For instance, when the authors assessed spatial memory (the memory for people, places and events) through a test in which mice use visual cues for finding a hidden platform in a circular pool, they found that normal mice had to repeat the task multiple times over many days in order to remember the platform’s location. By contrast, mice lacking PKR learned the task after only one training session.

Another key finding made by Costa-Mattioli and his team of researchers was the fact that this process could be mimicked by a PKR inhibitor - a small molecule that blocks PKR activity and thus acts as a "memory-enhancing drug."

"It is indeed quite amazing that we can also enhance both memory and brain activity with a drug that specifically targets PKR". Definitely then, the next step is to use what we have learned in mice and to try to improve brain function in people suffering from memory loss, said Costa-Mattioli.

SF fans have long memories on this topic. In his 1985 story Stone Lives, Paul Di Filippo wrote about a drug called mnemotropin:

One day Stone notices a pill on his lunch tray. He asks June its nature.

"It's a mnemotropin - promotes the coding of long-term memories," she replies. "I thought it might help you..."
(Read more about mnemotropin)

From Baylor College of Medicine via Kurzweil AI.

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