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Karen Hsiao Ashe

HOPE FOR MEMORY LOSS

From Minnesota magazine, November-December 2005

In a breakthrough that made news coast-to-coast, University of Minnesota researchers reversedmemory loss in mice genetically engineered to suffer brain atrophy similar to that caused by Alzheimer’s disease. The findings raise the hope that the same can someday be done for humans and also challenge assumptions about how the disease develops.

Led by Dr. Karen Hsiao Ashe, who created the “Alzheimer’s mice” almost a decade ago, researchers first isolated the gene that apparently causes brain degeneration and memory loss in Alzheimer’s. But after “switching off” that gene in Alzheimer’s mice and putting them through a maze, researchers found that memory loss in the animals hadn’t simply halted, their memory had significantly recovered. Further, this recovery occurred even though tangles of proteins within brain cells, believed to be one of the primary causes of memory loss, remained intact. Now, researchers believe the tangles might be a protective reaction to the disease.”

"I could only have done this at the University of Minnesota, primarily because the work depended on the backbone and foundation of my lab, which is several lab technicians, some of whom have been with me for many years," says Ashe. "I don't know of another institution on the coasts or with any prestige where I could have such a fine group of technicians."

Ashe, who holds the Edmund Wallace and Anne Marie Tulloch chairs in Neurology and Neuroscience, is now working to identify and understand the proteins that set off the tangle reaction, hoping to find treatments that could reverse some Alzheimer’srelated memory loss. Similar work is already under way on the proteins that cause plaque buildup between brain cells, believed to be the other major cause of memory loss.

The results were published in the July 15 issue of the journal Science.

Read more in "Nabbing the Thief of Memory" by U science writer Deane Morrison.