For the first time in history, researchers have been able to strengthen old, faded memories by tweaking an enzyme in the brain.
Sure, the tests were done on rats instead of humans, but the implications are massive. It’s far easier to lose or damage a memory than it is to enhance one, and the mind has long been a labyrinth of confusing catches to scientists, who have sought to unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s.
A new report in the journal Science reveals that an increase of PKMzeta, a protein that Discover Magazine calls the "engine of memory," might actually help strengthen old memories — long after they’ve been formed.
PKMzeta, a protein, acts by strengthening the bond between neurons in the brain, creating a network of connections that Discover describes as the "physical embodiment of our memories." Researchers found that by upping the level of the protein in rats, the rodents’ memories strengthened considerably.
Rats don’t have active memories the way you or I might, but rather mainly those associated with tastes, like sugar and salt. The findings revealed that rats with more of the PKMzeta protein had better memory retention, which means they improved their memories long after their initial formation.
According to the study’s authors, the findings mean that "PKMzeta is a potential target not only for memory blockers, which may be useful, for example in treating post-traumatic stress) but also for novel types of memory enhancers in the treatment of amnesia and cognitive decline."
In other words, we could very well be taking a pill someday designed to sharpen our memories and aid in overall mental acuity. This concept isn’t too far off the subject of the new film Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. The film’s a paranoia-fueled action thriller about an unpublished writer whose life is transformed by a top-secret “smart drug” that allows him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself. His enhanced abilities soon attract shadowy forces that threaten his new life.
The thrilling twist on the Flowers For Algernon tale could very well be a reality in the not-so-distant future.