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Learning Slows Physical Progression of Alzheimer's Disease: Study

Scientists at UC Irvine have discovered that learning appears to slow the development of two brain lesions that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease.// The finding suggests that the elderly, by keeping their minds active, can help delay the onset of this degenerative disease. The study appears in the Jan. 24 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

This study with genetically modified mice is the first to show that short but repeated learning sessions can slow a process known for causing the protein beta amyloid to clump in the brain and form plaques, which disrupt communication between cells and lead to symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Learning also was found to slow the buildup of hyperphosphorylated-tau, a protein in the brain that can lead to the development of tangles, the other signature lesion of the disease. Scientists say these findings have large implications for the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, as it is already known that highly educated individuals are less likely to develop the disease than people with less education.

"This study shows learning can delay the progression of Alzheimer's neuropathology in mice genetically engineered to develop this insidious disorder, and learning also delays the cognitive decline," said Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology and behavior and co-author of the study.

"These remarkable findings suggest stimulating the mind with activities such as reading books or completing crossword puzzles may help delay and/or prevent Alzheimer's disease in senior citizens."

LaFerla; James McGaugh, research professor of neurobiology and behavior; and postdoctoral researchers Kim Green and Lauren Billings studied hundreds of mice between two and 18 months of age that were bred to develop the plaques and tangles characteristic of the disease. Mice in one group were allowed to "learn" by swimming in a round tank of water until they found a submerged pla
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