There is a copious amount of experimental evidence linking the importance of sleep to memory formation and other cognitive processes. It is known that many with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – a degenerative, and currently incurable, memory disease – do not sleep well. New results from research with fruit flies has found that sleep plays a role in improving memory function, which could have high implications for the treatment of AD in humans.
While jumping from fruit flies to humans sounds like a big leap, fruit flies’ sleep patterns are actually extremely similar to that of humans. The study gave the fruit flies a drug called THIP, causing them to sleep more. The originally forgetful fruit flies became stronger in their memory, represented by a short-term memory test in which they avoided an area coated with an unpleasant chemical. The fruit flies’ memory extended for days, in that the males did not court other males that smelled like females after getting previously rejected by them.
“Quite honestly, this is a stunning result,” co-author Paul Shaw said in a Science News release about the research. “We take flies that are bad and we make them better. We don’t just prevent their deficits. We reverse them.”
To ensure that the results were caused not by the drug, but instead by the sleep, the researchers tried out two different ways to make them sleep without a drug. With these alternate methods, the fruit flies still showed the improvements. Therefore, it was not the THIP causing the memory enhancements – it was the sleep.
They also researched into the fly equivalent of the gene that usually has mutations in people with AD and found improvements in long-term memory as well.
The report was published on April 23 in an online publication, “Current Biology.” “It’s a stretch to suggest that sleeping would cure memory problems in Alzheimer’s disease patients,” Mark Wu, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University, said in the same Science News article. “But there’s a potentially important relationship between sleep and Alzheimer’s disease.” Basically, effective treatment for AD is few and far between, but it is possible to treat issues with sleep. This research, along with growing body in the connection between AD and sleep, can create inroads for treatment of the currently irreversible disease.
Read the full article at www.sciencenews.org.