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November 18, 2009

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

Smart rat holds hope for aiding human memory

RESEARCHERS have created a smart transgenic rat whose brain cells communicate a bit longer than usual, shedding light on the possibility of enhancing human memory, a scientist said yesterday in Shanghai.

Researchers improved the rat's memory by over-expressing a gene designated as NR2B in the hippocampus, a learning and memory center in the brain, said Cao Xiaohua, a professor at a brain science lab at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

"As human beings have a similar NR2B gene, theoretically the research is a boost for the study of improving human memory," Cao said. "The finding also brings hope to patients suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia."

The NR2B is a subunit of receptors that allow electrically charged ions to flow to the neurons to facilitate brain cell activity and communication.

Over-expressing the gene can make the brain cells communicate longer by about 100 milliseconds, Cao said.

The rat with modified NR2B gene, dubbed Hobbie-J after a clever rat that stars in a Chinese cartoon, was quicker in picking up clues that lead to food hidden on an underwater platform, compared with an average rat.

After the platform was taken away, Hobbie-J was still able to find the spot and linger around where the platform used to be.

Cao co-authored the paper on Hobbie-J that was published on October 19 in PloS One, an influential open-access online journal for scientific and medical research, with Joe Z. Tsien, co-director of the Brain and Behavior Discovery Institute of the Medical College of Georgia.

Tsien developed a smart mouse by over-expressing the NR2B gene a decade ago. The memory improvements of the rat were similar to that of the mouse.

"This adds to the notion that NR2B is a universal switch for memory formation," Tsien was quoted as saying by Science Daily.


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