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Encouraging the growth and health of nerve tissue may improve memory for those with cognitive decline

Encouraging the growth of healthy nerve tissue and improving brain neurotrophic factor signaling may enhance memory for people with signs of cognitive decline, according to researchers from the University of Eastern Finland.

This could be particularly useful for people who are at risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease – which is the most prevalent case of dementia. In particular, Alzheimer’s disease is distinguished by the accumulation of the amyloid beta peptide in the brain.

Previous research revealed that decreased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were associated with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline in humans. BDNF is the most important neurotrophic factor affecting synaptic function. Impaired synaptic function and synapse loss have also been shown in Alzheimer’s disease, and synapse loss has been reported to correspond with the severity of memory impairment.

Thus, the researchers investigated how changes in BDNF signaling impact memory functions and brain pathology. In conducting the study, they used transgenic APP/PS1 mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease with altered BDNF signaling. The results of the study revealed that the reduced BDNF signaling caused memory impairment. Moreover, when BDNF signaling was enhanced, memory impairment was lessened.

The researchers also looked at the potential of cerebral dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF) in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Previous studies showed that CDNF exhibited strong neuroprotective as well as restorative properties in animal models of Parkinson’s disease and spinal and peripheral nerve impairments. However, its therapeutic effect has not been previously studied in Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, the researchers of the current study infused CDNF as a pure protein or in a viral vector directly into brain hippocampus. This treatment enhanced long-term memory performance of APP/PS1 and wild-type mice.

In order to measure neurotrophic factor effects on memory functions, both the mice with alterations in BDNF signaling and the APP/PS1 mice treated with CDNF went through an extensive behavioral test battery. Results showed that although none of the neurotrophic factor alterations influenced amyloid deposition, they all had effects on memory function.

“Thus, by enhancing neurotrophic factor signaling it may be possible to improve memory functions without altering brain amyloid burden,” explained Susanna Kemppainen, one of the researchers of the study.

Foods for better cognitive function

Certain foods can be beneficial for the brain and can enhance memory function. (Related: 8 Steps to Regain Cognitive Function and Prevent Dementia.)

Here is a list of foods that can boost cognitive health:

  • Whole grains – Whole grains, such as granary bread, rice, and pasta, may help improve concentration and focus. For a person to concentrate and focus properly, a sufficient, steady supply of energy is needed which is in the form of glucose in the blood to the brain. Whole grains with a low glycemic index release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping a person mentally alert throughout the day.
  • Oily fish – Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain function, the heart, joints, and overall health. Low DHA levels have also been linked to a greater risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and memory loss. Oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards, and kippers are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Plant sources include flax and walnuts.
  • Blueberries – Research from Tufts University suggests that blueberry consumption may be helpful in enhancing or delaying short-term memory loss.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes contain a potent antioxidant called lycopene that could help fight free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.
  • Black currants – Black currants are one of the best sources of vitamin C. According to some studies, vitamin C deficiency may increase the risk of age-related brain degeneration such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more news stories and studies on memory function and Alzheimer’s disease by going to

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