New research suggests HIV drug may combat memory loss in middle-aged people

Do you ever go to the fridge only to forget why you went there in the first place? This is a common phenomenon as we age and our memory deteriorates.

Now, there could be a new treatment for memory loss in middle-aged people on the horizon and it comes in the form of an HIV drug. According to a press release issued by the institution on Wednesday.

Strengthening human memory in middle age

“Our memories are an integral part of who we are,” explained Alcino Silva, a distinguished professor of neurobiology and psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “The ability to connect related experiences teaches how to stay safe and function successfully in the world.”

The new research offers the possibility of finding a new method to strengthen human memory in middle age and prevent dementia. It all has to do with a gene called CCR5.

Silva’s lab had found in previous research that CCR5 expression reduced memory recall. Essentially, in the experiments, it disrupted the central mechanism underlying the mice’s ability to link their memories of two different cages.

The researchers amplified the expression of the CCR5 gene in the brains of middle-aged mice to see the effect and found that it did indeed interfere with memory binding. When a lot of CCR5 was present, the animals forgot the connection between the two cages.

To confirm this hypothesis, the scientists then proceeded to delete the CCR5 gene in the animals. Once that was done, the mice were then able to link memories that normal mice couldn’t.

Using an HIV drug to boost memory

So where does the HIV drug come in?

Silva and his team had conducted previous experiments with the drug maraviroc, which the US Food and Drug Administration approved in 2007 for the treatment of HIV. The researchers found that maraviroc also successfully suppressed CCR5 in the brains of mice.

“When we gave maraviroc to older mice, the drug duplicated the effect of the genetic deletion of CCR5 from their DNA,” said Silva, a member of the UCLA Brain Research Institute. “Older animals were able to link their memories again.”

But why does the brain produce a gene that interferes with memory in the first place? Silva said it might be to keep us sane by forgetting what is no longer useful or relevant to us.

“Life would be impossible if we remembered everything,” Silva said. “We suspect that CCR5 enables the brain to connect meaningful experiences by filtering out less significant details.”

Now, Silva hopes to undertake clinical trials to test maraviroc’s effectiveness in preventing and reversing memory loss.

“Our next step will be to organize a clinical trial to test the influence of maraviroc on early memory loss for the purpose of early intervention,” Silva said. “Once we fully understand how memory declines, we have the potential to slow the process down.”

Could this HIV drug hold the key to effective prevention and reversal of memory loss?

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