— People with Downs syndrome may be able to improve their memory by taking a supplement of Ginkgo tree extract, according to a promising mouse study.
Downs syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by an extra chromosome, is the most common form of mental retardation. One of the symptoms faced by people with the condition is a deficit in declarative memory the memory for facts and events. This could be because neurons in the hippocampus the area of the brain where memories are laid down are over-inhibited by a neurotransmitter called GABA.
Craig Garner at Stanford University in California, US, and colleagues gave mice with a rodent version of Downs syndrome the ginkgo extract, called bilobalide, or another drug called pentylenetetazole (PTZ). Both of these block the action of GABA in the brain.
The mice that drank PTZ in chocolate milk, or received an injection of bilobalide, once a day for 17 days did significantly better at memory tests, such as recognising which of two objects they had seen before. And the improvements lasted for up to three months after the mice stopped taking the drugs, suggesting that they had caused long-term changes in brain pathways.
With time youre teaching the brain to suppress the excessive inhibition in the hippocampus, says Garner. He points out that PTZ has already been rigorously tested in humans and can be taken orally.
Journal reference: Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/nn1860)
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