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2012 Grants - Liu
Spatial Learning on Neurogenesis and Behavior in Alzheimer's-Like Models
Gongping Liu, Ph.D.
Huazhong University of Science and Technology
2012 New Investigator Research Grant
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder in which memory and cognitive function—attention, producing and understanding language, solving problems and making decisions—gradually decline. Such cognitive loss may result from the toxic effects of beta-amyloid and other molecules that promote brain cell death. One therapeutic strategy for Alzheimer's involves inducing the creation of new neurons within the aging brain. Recent experiments with rats have found that spatial learning—or learning to navigate around a new environment—is associated with the production and survival of new "adult-born" neurons. Yet the precise nature of this association is unclear.
Gongping Liu, Ph.D., and colleagues have been studying the benefits of neuronal growth in rats injected with beta-amyloid. They found that when these rats were subjected to cognitive training, they developed stronger and more plentiful new neurons than did mice that were given no training. In a separate study, the team also found that spatial learning exercises reduced the risk of amnestic mild cognitive impairment (a cognitive phase that may precede dementia) in a group of elderly human participants. These findings suggest that spatial learning can ameliorate both the brain cell loss and the cognitive declines of Alzheimer's disease.
For their current study, Dr. Liu and colleagues will conduct larger training experiments with Alzheimer's-like mice to confirm their earlier findings. They hope to determine which new neurons—those produced before training or these produced during training—are more likely to survive. The team also hopes to identify in adult animals when spatial learning is most effective at promoting neuron growth and preventing long-term memory loss. Results of this effort could lead to novel dementia therapies in humans.