Washington: Researchers have found that a drug used in cancer therapy could also sharpen memory and help those with dementia by rewiring the brain and keeping neurons alive.
Researchers from Rutgers University and the University of California Irvine found that the drug - RGFP966 - administered to rats made them more attuned to what they were hearing.
The rats were able to retain and remember more information and develop new connections that allowed these memories to be transmitted between brain cells.
"Memory-making in neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease is often poor or absent altogether once a person is in the advanced stages of the disease," said lead author Kasia M Bieszczad, assistant professor at the Rutgers University.
"This drug could rescue the ability to make new memories that are rich in detail and content, even in the worst case scenarios," Bieszczad said.
In Alzheimer's disease brain cells shrink and die because the synapses that transfer information from one neuron to another are no longer strong and stable. There is no therapeutic treatment available to reverse this situation.
The drug administered in the animal study is among a class known as HDAC inhibitors - used in cancer therapies to stop the activation of genes that turn normal cells into cancerous ones.
In the brain, the drug makes the neurons more plastic, better able to make connections and create positive changes that enhance memory.
Researchers found that laboratory rats, taught to listen to a certain sound in order to receive a reward, and given the drug after training, remembered what they learned and responded correctly to the tone at a greater rate than those not given the drug.
Scientists also found that the rodents were more "tuned in" to the relevant acoustic signals they heard during their training - an important finding because setting up the brain to better process and store significant sounds is critical to human speech and language.
"People learning to speak again after a disease or injury as well as those undergoing cochlear implantation to reverse previous deafness, may be helped by this type of therapeutic treatment in the future," said Bieszczad.
"The application could even extend to people with delayed language learning abilities or people trying to learn a second language," said Bieszczad.
The hypersensitivity in processing auditory information enabled the neurons to reorganise and create new pathways - allowing more of the information they learned to become a long-term memory, said Bieszczad.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.