How often do you find yourself suddenly going blank, even when you are trying to recall something very familiar? Well, next time it happens, see if it comes to you later on in the day. This may seem like strange advice, but in a recent study: researchers identified a gene in mice that seems to influence memory recall at different times of day. The study tracked if the gene caused mice to be more forgetful just before they normally wake up,and if they were more on the ball later in the day.
The Biology of Forgetting
Researchers who specialise in human memory, are trying to determine how we form new memories. They note that when it comes to scientific studies, the biology of forgetting is very complex due to the problems of distinguishing whether it is: not recalling or not knowing. Indeed, each time we forget something, could be due to the fact that we did not learn it properly in the first instance. For example: “the name of the person you were just introduced to a minute ago; or not being able to recall the information from where it is stored in your brain — like the lyrics of your favorite song slipping your mind.” Sound familiar?
A Low Down on the Research
A well known professor at the University of Tokyo’s Department of Applied Biological Chemistry, Satoshi Kida, stated: “We may have identified the first gene in mice specific to memory retrieval, and we designed a memory test that can differentiate between not learning versus knowing but not being able to remember.”
Kida, also notes that in the past, memory researchers were of the opinion that our body’s circadian (internal) clock, which works to regulate our sleep-wake cycle, could potentially impact the formation of our memory and learning ability. “Now we have evidence that the circadian clocks are regulating memory recall.”
Helping Alzheimer’s & Dementia Patients
The study team have determined the role of a specific protein which is believed to regulate the circadian rhythm in memory retrieval to the hippocampus (an area of the brain). Kida remarked: “If we can identify ways to boost memory retrieval through this BMAL1 pathway, then we can think about applications to human diseases of memory deficit, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” Further, this type of research is so desperately needed as incidences of Alzheimer’s and dementia are rocketing up like never before, in both the US and elsewhere.
Researchers found that the time of day was linked to the mice’s level of memory recall. Yet, why they have naturally fluctuating memory recall abilities determined by the time of day, remains a mystery. Kida noted: “We really want to know what is the evolutionary benefit of having naturally impaired memory recall at certain times of day.”
In summary, this research, which also involved the University of Toronto and the Tokyo University of Agriculture, is just the tip of the iceberg, and research needs to be conducted on humans, who in the most part, are not nocturnal…