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ScienceDaily (Feb. 9, 2009) — Memory loss, cognitive impairment, brain cell degeneration and cell death were prevented or reversed in several animal models after treatment with a naturally occurring protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The study by a University of California, San Diego-led team – published in the February 8, 2009 issue of Nature Medicine – shows that BDNF treatment can potentially provide long-lasting protection by slowing, or even stopping the progression of Alzheimer's disease in animal models.
"The effects of BDNF were potent," said Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neurosciences at the UC San Diego School of Medicine and neurologist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Health System. "When we administered BDNF to memory circuits in the brain, we directly stimulated their activity and prevented cell death from the underlying disease."
BDNF is normally produced throughout life in the entorhinal cortex, a portion of the brain that supports memory. Its production decreases in the presence of Alzheimer's disease. For these experiments, the researchers injected the BDNF gene or protein in a series of cell culture and animal models, including transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer's disease; aged rats; rats with induced damage to the entorhinal cortex; aged rhesus monkeys, and monkeys with entorhinal cortex damage.
In each case, when compared with control groups not treated with BDNF, the treated animals demonstrated significant improvement in the performance of a variety of learning and memory tests. Notably, the brains of the treated animals also exhibited restored BDNF gene expression, enhanced cell size, improved cell signaling, and activation of function in neurons that would otherwise have degenerated, compared to untreated animals. These benefits extended to the degenerating hippocampus where short-term memory is processed, one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage in Alzheimer's disease.