CREB and Knockout Mice

A memory trace is solidified if there is a small gap in time between the pieces of information that need to be remembered. Using this technique, which is called spaced training, scientists engineered a fruit fly to have a photographic memory. In the same fruit fly species, they triggered a master gene called CREB, which has the ability to goad a number of other genes into action. In this manner, the fruit fly with a fabulous memory was born. Ideally, if we could stimulate CREB in the same way in the human brain, total recall would become the standard for everyone. But there is no known method to turn a gene on or off in the human brain, so even though we all possess CREB, we don't yet know how to galvanize it into action in people. The goal of these researchers is to see if manipulating CREB in some fashion will make it possible to unlock the full power of human memory.

Other researchers like Eric Kandel approach the same problem from a different angle. He takes mice and removes, or knocks out, a gene or set of genes that are involved in cognitive processes. These "knockout" mice perform horribly in mazes and similar tests of cognitive ability. Drugs are then administered, one by one, to see if they can reverse this glaring memory deficit in the knockout mice. One such promising agent is rolipram, but as yet there are no worthwhile clinical studies with this compound. Another strategy is to block the synthesis of specific proteins by genetic manipulation, which then leads to memory loss in rats. As with the knockout mice, specific drugs can be given to reverse this process and correct the memory deficit. Kandel, in his dynamic way, has formed his own company to employ these techniques to try and find the magic pill that will reverse memory loss.

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