Sea snails could help people with memory loss

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Research into human learning and memory impairments have found an unusual possible solution in a species of sea snail.

Neurocientists studying the brain at the University of Texas Health Science Center have used the sea snail Aplysia californica to test a new learning strategy with encouraging results. It is hoped that eventually this work will benefit people with impairments resulting from ageing, stroke, traumatic brain injury or congenital cognitive impairments.

The researchers gave learning sessions to two groups of snails – one at irregular times predicted by a computer based on the times when the brain is primed for learning and another at regular 20 minute intervals. After five days a significant increase in memory and nerve cell activity was seen in the computer snails but there was no increase in the regular interval group.

"We found that memory could be enhanced appreciably," said John H. "Jack" Byrne, Ph.D., senior author. "When you give a training session, you are starting several different chemical reactions. If you give another session, you get additional effects. The idea is to get the sessions in sync; we have developed a way to adjust the training sessions so they are tuned to the dynamics of the biochemical processes."

For more information see: Yili Zhang, Rong-Yu Liu, George A Heberton, Paul Smolen, Douglas A Baxter, Leonard J Cleary, John H Byrne. Computational design of enhanced learning protocols.Nature Neuroscience, 2011; DOI: 

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