Fuel for the brain: scientists discover natural remedy for memory loss

A team of researchers from Nijmegen, Graz and Berlin used the common fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, to demonstrate that supplementing a class of naturally occurring metabolites in the ageing brain is sufficient to alleviate age-dependent memory decline. Like humans, fruitflies become forgetful with age.

Metabolites for memory
The used class of metabolites are called polyamines, and are known to decrease during aging in the human brain, as well as in flies. The study has shown that feeding a polyamine called spermidine to flies is sufficient to restore polyamine levels in their ageing brains. This effectively prevents age-dependent memory loss, which depends on the cellular process of autophagy – a mechanism used by cells to clear themselves of dysfunctional components such as defective proteins and organelles.

The Nijmegen researchers unravelled the consequences of spermidine feeding on global gene activity in the ageing fly brain. Their results indicate that spermidine achieves a number of protective and positive effects on brain function. These findings provide an initial step towards a comprehensive understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie the protective role of spermidine in the brain.

Treatment in humans
The recent study provides insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying cognitive ageing and suggests that polyamines, as naturally occurring substances, may be suitable for the treatment of age-dependent cognitive decline in humans. 

The Nijmegen researchers work in the ‘Drosophila models of brain disorders’ group at the department of Human Genetics, and at the department of Molecular Biology. The collaborative study was coordinated by researchers at Universities in Berlin and Graz.