It’s well established that inflammation is positively associated with cognitive decline in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. However, it’s becoming evident that inflammation also plays a role in simple memory loss in otherwise healthy individuals. This means that we are all susceptible to the dangers of inflammation on memory, even if we never develop dementia. Cognitive decline is perhaps one of the scariest ideas about aging, so researchers are determined to better understand cognitive decline in otherwise healthy, aging subjects.
A study at UC San Francisco reports that high levels of a molecule that is associated with chronic, low-grade inflammation in the brain correlates with aspects of memory decline in otherwise healthy subjects. Researchers conducting the study hypothesized that the presence of a pro-inflammatory molecule would be associated with poorer memory creation. 76 women and men (with a mean age of 71 and the presence of pro-inflammatory markers), and 65 people without the presence of inflammatory markers were put to the test. Both groups were given a 16-word list-learning task, measuring verbal recall, and then went under MRI to measure their brain activity. Results showed that the group with inflammatory markers present recalled fewer words. While it remains unknown if the inflammatory marker is the sole cause of memory loss, the findings imply that relatively simple, anti-inflammatory therapies may help to prevent cognitive decline and preserve memory.
The researchers suggest that inflammation is only one component that drives cognitive decline in healthy adults. They plan to continue to monitor the patients throughout their lives to gain a better understanding of inflammation’s role on the hippocampus and preservation of memory as we age. The researchers also noted they planned to examine the effects of exercise and sleep on memory decline.
While inflammation is a necessary component of the immune system for healing damaged tissue, studies show that chronic inflammation is associated with almost every disease. Chronic inflammation of the brain is thought to play a large role in neurodegenerative diseases. The importance of understanding this link cannot be overemphasized, as effective treatments are of increasing need to our aging population.
Animal studies show that chronic brain inflammation impairs the function of a brain structure called the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays important roles in the consolidation of information from both short and long term memory. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions to suffer damage. This damage to the hippocampus disrupts the establishment of memories, a process called long term potentiation.
What’s next for research in inflammatory contributions in memory decline? Many researchers suggest conducting clinical trials using anti-inflammatory therapies in measuring the long-term effects on memory retention. If low-dose anti-inflammatory drugs, or even natural anti-inflammatory remedies can significantly reduce the risk for cognitive decline, these may be simple solutions or effective preventative steps in the preservation of memory. With inflammation being unveiled as a factor in nearly every disease, it’s very likely that anti-inflammatory remedies will someday be used in the fight against diseases that we once found elusive and mysterious.