Neuroscientists at UCLA are reporting a discovery that could lead to a major breakthrough in the recovery of lost memories for sufferers of dementia. The researchers' findings seem to contradict the long-held belief that long-term memories make their homes in the brain's synapses. By this understanding, permanent memory loss necessarily occurs when these synapses are destroyed by conditions such as Alzheimer's. Yet the UCLA scientists were able to successfully disassociate memory storage from synaptic connections. To employ an oil metaphor, they believe synapses may actually be more like pipelines rather than wells. 

UCLA Newsroom's Stuart Wolpert spoke to David Glanzman, a senior author of the study, who explains just how impactful this new discovery may be down the line:

"'Long-term memory is not stored at the synapse,' said David Glanzman, a senior author of the study, and a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology. 'That’s a radical idea, but that’s where the evidence leads. The nervous system appears to be able to regenerate lost synaptic connections. If you can restore the synaptic connections, the memory will come back. It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible.'"

Since the research has started, UCLA has been able to improve memory loss. Most subjects in the test were able to perform better than they had previously, though one patient experiencing late Alzheimer's memory and cognition did not show improvement. 

Be sure to read the full article linked below for the nitty gritty behind how Glanzman's team made their discovery (fun tidbit: there are snails involved!). Put concisely, this news doesn't prove that memories can for sure be restored. Rather it serves as an important forward leap  toward an eventually understanding of the workings of long-term memory storage. If Glanzman is correct in his assertion, it may just be a matter of time until we unlock a number of age-old mysteries.

Read more at UCLA Newsroom

Read more at Newsroom UCLA

Photo credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock