Memory enhanced by sports-cheat drug

Sep 09, 2008

A drug used to increase blood production in both medical treatments and athletic doping scandals seems also to improve memory in those using it. New research published in the open access journal BMC Biology shows that the memory enhancing effects of erythropoietin (EPO) are not related to its effects on blood production but due to direct influences on neurons in the brain. The findings may prove useful in the treatment of diseases affecting brain function, such as schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's.

Patients given EPO to treat chronic kidney failure had been observed to have improved cognition after starting the drug. "These effects of EPO were thought to result from the blood-boosting effects of the drug", explains Hannelore Ehrenreich at the Max Planck Institute, "but the finding of receptors for EPO on nerve cells in the brain suggests that some other mechanism might be involved."

To investigate the mechanisms of EPO-enhanced cognition, the researchers injected mice with EPO every other day for three weeks (11 doses) to test the effects of long-term exposure. After the treatment period, mice given EPO had better memory in some situations than did mice that had been given a placebo instead. The improvement in memory lasted up to three weeks from the last EPO dose and outlasted increased blood-cell production, but had disappeared by four weeks. Mice given three doses saw no benefit with respect to memory improvement.

"Young mice systematically treated with EPO for three weeks have improved memory, similar to the dramatic improvements observed in endurance and muscular performance athletes who use EPO to boost performance", says Ehrenreich. The specific memory improvements were associated with the hippocampus, a structure in the brain involved in learning and memory, among other functions.

The researchers did a series of experiments on hippocampal tissue taken from the mice and found that EPO directly affected the neurons in this structure. "EPO had pronounced effects on short-term and long-term plasticity in the hippocampus as well as on synaptic transmission", the researchers report. "Treatment with EPO seems to increase the number of inhibitory circuits, which actually increases the efficiency of transmission of excitatory nerve impulses in specific neurons, resulting in greater short-term and long-term plasticity in memory pathways in the hippocampus."

These findings begin to shed light on the mechanisms of improvements in cognition seen in patients with schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis as a result of treatment with this drug. As well as working to refine these findings, further studies might also investigate the effects of EPO on other brain regions that might be associated with improvements in motor functions in multiple sclerosis, and investigate the potential of using EPO or targeting the networks involved in EPO-generated neuronal plasticity in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Source: BioMed Central

Explore further: Drug research and development more efficient than expected

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Drug for anemic cancer patients raises risk of death

Feb 26, 2008

Millions of cancer patients take drugs to boost their red blood cells and health when they become anemic after chemotherapy. But a new study by Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine shows these drugs, called ...

Recommended for you

Drug research and development more efficient than expected

Feb 27, 2015

Drug R&D costs have increased substantially in recent decades, while the number of new drugs has remained fairly constant, leading to concerns about the sustainability of drug R&D and question about the factors that could ...

Use new meningitis vaccines only for outbreaks

Feb 26, 2015

(AP)—A U.S. panel on Thursday recommended that two new meningitis vaccines only be used for rare outbreaks, resisting tearful pleas to give it routinely to teens and college students.

New antibiotic avycaz approved

Feb 26, 2015

(HealthDay)—The combination antibiotic Avycaz (ceftazidime-avibactam) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat adults with complicated infections of the intra-abdominal area or urinary tract, ...

Tagging drugs to fight counterfeit medicines

Feb 25, 2015

The U.S. and other countries are enacting rules to clamp down on the sales of fake pharmaceuticals, which pose a public health threat. But figuring out a system to track and authenticate legitimate drugs still faces significant ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.