A new treatment, which could be used to improve memory and mental performance in older people has been developed by Scottish researchers.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh say that a new experimental compound can improve memory and cognitive function in ageing mice.
The team has identified a preclinical candidate that they hope to take into human trials within a year.
Many people find they become more forgetful as they get older and it is generally accepted as a natural part of the ageing process. Absent mindedness and a difficulty to concentrate are not uncommon, it takes longer to recall a person's name, and we can't remember where we left the car keys. These can all be early signs of the onset of dementia, but for most of us it's just part of getting old.
Such memory loss has been linked with high levels of 'stress' steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids, which have a deleterious effect on the part of the brain that helps us to remember. An enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 is involved in making these hormones and has been shown to be more active in the brain during ageing.
In a study the team reports the effects of a new synthetic compound that selectively blocks 11beta-HSD1 on the ability of mice to complete a memory task, called the Y maze.
Professor Jonathan Seckl from the University of Edinburgh, who discovered the role of 11beta-HSD1 in the brain, described the findings: "Normal old mice often have marked deficits in learning and memory just like some elderly people. We found that life-long partial deficiency of 11beta-HSD1 prevented memory decline with ageing. But we were very surprised to find that the blocking compound works quickly over a few days to improve memory in old mice suggesting it might be a good treatment for the already elderly."
The effects were seen after only 10 days of treatment.
The study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.