Studies on memory formation are important for understanding which chemicals and processes are involved in Alzheimer’s Disease. Dopamine, a chemical which sends signals between cells in the brain, is thought to be important in learning and memory. Patients with Parkinson’s disease who are taking a dopamine boosting drug which provides a useful opportunity to test how dopamine is involved with memory and how these drugs may help patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

A BRACE-funded pilot study, built on Wellcome Trust funded research carried out by Dr John Grogan - who is a member of Dr Liz Coulthard’s research team, aimed to test patients with Parkinson’s disease on their memory in a word recall test.

The goal was to find out whether the dopamine medication would be beneficial in helping them remember more words. The test involved showing patients a list of words, then asking them to recall them at two different times, which gave researchers an opportunity to study two phases of memory consolidation: learning and early memory consolidation (30 minutes after) and late memory consolidation phase (24 hour after). It was hoped that the dopamine medication would increase memory scores.

As expected, patients with Parkinson’s disease had lower scores than healthy patients, and patients on medication during the second day recalled more words than those who were off their medication. However, the study did not show that the drug would help memory in every situation; memory scores at 24 hours were lower in patients who were given the drug during the first phase of the study compared to patients who did not have the drug in this period. This suggests that boosting dopamine effects various stages of memory retrieval differently; the drug may be useful in improving memory if given during consolidation but make may it worse if given during the learning phase.

Through funding research, that explores the mechanisms of memory in different patient groups, BRACE is furthering understanding of the processes involved in Dementia, as well as how it can be treated most efficiently. These results are useful in improving understanding of how dopamine is involved at different stages of memory formation, and how drugs can best be utilised to treat symptoms of neurodegeneration.

By Rachel Milligan, University of Bristol

This is from a series of articles based on research by Travis Bacon into BRACE's impact 1987-2017. Travis spent 12 weeks with BRACE late in 2017, during which time he researched what BRACE funding had achieved over thirty years. We are very grateful for his work, even more so as we were surprised by how much BRACE has achieved!