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Learning Slows Physical Progression of Alzheimer's Disease: Study

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These mice received training four times a day for one week at two, six, nine, 12, 15 and 18 months of age, and were evaluated at each session for learning and memory abilities. Other groups of untrained mice were allowed to swim in the tank for just one session before their learning and memory skills were tested and their brains examined for plaques and tangles.

Mice up to 12 months of age that learned on previous occasions had fewer plaques and tangles in their brains, and they learned and remembered the location of the escape platform much better than mice not previously allowed to learn. At the 12-month point, the mice that had learned developed levels of beta amyloid and hyperphosphorylated-tau that were 60 percent less than the mice that had not learned; but, by 15 months of age, the mice that had learned deteriorated and were identical both physically and cognitively to the mice that had not learned.

"We were surprised this mild learning had such big effects at reducing Alzheimer's disease pathology and cognitive decline, but the effects were not strong enough to overcome later and more severe pathology," Green said. "We are now investigating if more frequent and vigorous learning will have bigger and longer benefits to Alzheimer's disease."

LaFerla and other colleagues developed the transgenic mice used in this study. These mice, bred to develop the brain lesions associated with Alzheimer's, now are used by scientists worldwide to study the disease.

Alzheimer's is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 4.5 million adults in the United States. With an aging population, that number could approach 20 million by 2050. Alzheimer's is the third-leading cause of death, behind cancer and heart disease. Five percent of people older than 65 have Alzheimer's, and up to one-half of people are affected by age 80.



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