Spotlight Live: Memory and Aging

by Bruce Lieberman

Kavli Institute for Brain Science researchers find compelling evidence that age-related memory loss is a syndrome in its own right

The Author

Bruce Lieberman

The Researchers

Eric Kandel
Scott Small
Elias Pavlopoulos

Researchers with the Kavli Institute for Brain Science (KIBS) at Columbia University found compelling evidence that age-related memory loss is a syndrome in its own right, apart from Alzheimer’s. In fact, in the case of one type of age-related memory loss—again, distinct from Alzheimer's—researchers were able to restore memory function in mice so that it was comparable to that of young mice. These are exciting findings that, along with implications for the study, diagnosis, and treatment of memory disorders, may in the future have significant public health consequences.

Nobel Laureate and KIBS Director Dr. Eric R. Kandel, and Drs. Elias Pavlopoulos and Scott A. Small discuss their new study, the science of age-related memory loss, and the prospects for helping people recover their ability to remember.

About the Participants

  • ERIC R. KANDEL – Nobel Laureate, University Professor, Kavli Professor and Director, Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia University; and Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Kandel is one of the world’s foremost authorities on how the brain forms and stores memories. He won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his discovery that learning and memory involve changes in how nerve cells communicate: short-term memory involves temporary changes in the connections between brain cells, while long-term memory involves more lasting anatomical changes. Dr. Kandel is the editor of Principles of Neural Science, the standard textbook in the field; author of two popular science books; and co-host of the Charlie Rose Brain Series on PBS. He has received numerous academic awards, including the Albert Lasker Award and the National Medal of Science USA.
  • ELIAS PAVLOPOULOS – Researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Eric Kandel at Columbia University. Dr. Pavlopoulos uses genetically engineered mice to explore how the brain stores memories. His long-term research goals are to understand how memories are formed and stored, how they decline in later life, and how this decline can be prevented or lessened. In 2011, his work led to the discovery of an important molecular mechanism in a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in storing memories. In August, he described his development of the first mouse model for human cognitive aging, which could significantly accelerate the discovery of drugs that target age-related memory loss. Dr. Pavlopoulos was the lead author of the study the webcast will highlight.
  • SCOTT A. SMALL – Professor of Neurology at Columbia University, Director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Columbia, and member of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science. Dr. Small primarily studies how the hippocampus works when memories form, and how it fails during aging and Alzheimer’s disease. His lab has pinpointed populations of cells within the hippocampus that are most vulnerable to normal aging, and he has contrasted this to what is seen in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Small and colleagues also have begun to identify molecules that cause age-related memory decline, versus those that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • BRUCE LIEBERMAN (moderator) – Freelance science writer. Bruce has more than 20 years of experience in the news business. He worked as a reporter at daily newspapers for many years before becoming an independent writer and editor in 2010. For The Kavli Foundation, he has interviewed researchers about numerous topics in astronomy & astrophysics, neuroscience and nanotechnology. He has also written for Scientific American, Air & Space/Smithsonian and Sky & Telescope magazines, and other media outlets about a variety of science topics.

Your Questions

  • Can you please explain the research in the study and what it means? (3:30)
  • What is the role of the protein (RbAp48) in memory? (7:00)
  • Do we know what RbAp48 does throughout the rest of the brain? (9:50)
  • If we developed a drug to target RbAp48 could we contain it to only the relevant portions of the brain? (12:15)
  • What does this study mean for people that are concerned about aging and memory? (15:10)
  • Why does this RbAp48 protein become deficient as we grow older? (16:30)
  • How does this study help explain what we know about Alzheimers? (17:15)
  • Do you ever foresee an Alzheimers diagnostic that does not require a postmortem autopsy? (20:00)
  • What are your biggest questions moving forward regarding this study? (22:45)
  • Are we in a golden age of neuroscience? (25:00)
  • During your career, how has the field changed most significantly? (27:05)
  • Do telomeres, the protective endcaps of the chromosomal DNA, have any connection to memory and aging? (31:00)
  • What are the most interesting unresolved questions in memory? (31:40)
Written by Bruce Lieberman

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