How the brain's immune system could be harnessed to improve memory

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Inflammation can send the brain's immune cells into damaging hyperdrive, an effect that has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases that affect memory, like dementia. A new study finds these same immune cells can also be activated to have the reverse effect, powering memory and learning.
When it comes to memory, immune cells are known as the "bad cops" of the brain. But new research shows they could also be turned into "good cops" to power memory and learning.

Inflammation can send the brain's immune cells into damaging hyperdrive, and this has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases that affect memory, like dementia.

In the new study, researchers at RMIT University found that these same immune cells -- known as microglia -- can also be activated to have the reverse effect.

When the microglia were altered in rats, their performance in simple memory tasks improved by up to 50%, rather than deteriorating.

While the effect was temporary, the discovery suggests these cells could be targeted in the development of new therapies designed to enhance memory formation, with the hope of preventing cognitive decline as people grow older.

Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, with nearly 10 million new cases each year. In Australia, dementia and ageing-related cognitive decline affect 9% of people aged over 65.

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Chief Investigator and senior author, Associate Professor Sarah Spencer, said the unexpected results of the study expanded our understanding of memory formation and the role of neuroinflammation in memory loss.

"Cognitive decline is a big problem for our…
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