By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Science
German scientists have developed a new nasal spray that promises to improve memory.
German scientists have developed a new nasal spray that promises to improve memory.
In a research report featured as the cover story of the Oct. 2009 issue of The FASEB Journal, scientists from the University of Lubeck demonstrate that administering a spray with a molecule from the body's immune system -- interleukin-6 -- helps the brain retain emotional and procedural memories during REM sleep.
"Here, we provide the first evidence that the immunoregulatory signal interleukin-6 plays a beneficial role in sleep-dependent formation of long-term memory in humans," said researcher Lisa Marshall, co-author of the study, in a statement.
Marshall and a team had 17 healthy young men spend two nights in the laboratory. Each night, after reading either an emotional or neutral short story, the men sprayed used a nasal spray which contained either interleukin-6 or a placebo fluid.
Marshall's team monitored the men's sleep and brain electric activity throughout the night. The next morning, subjects wrote down as many words as they could remember from each of the two stories.
Those who received the dose of IL-6 could remember more words.
"If a nasal spray can improve memory, perhaps we're on our way to giving some folks a whiff of common sense, such as accepting the realities of evolution," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, in a statement. "This is exciting piece of interdisciplinary science, since IL-6 had previously been considered a by-product of inflammation, not an agent that affects cognition."
Intrigued, I called Weissmann at his home (he's a professor emeritus at the School of Medicine at New York University) and asked him to elaborate on the significance of the findings.
This is a very exciting piece of work. We've known for a long time that when we're infected and get sick, our bodies produce things called cytokines, which help people's cells know that they're sick. Some of them make us lose weight. Some of them give us fever. But nobody knew that these would have any effect on memory.
The idea that it could have cognitive effects is very novel. This is different. This improves memory during REM sleep, presumably by improving connections that form during sleep.
Your nose is an extension of your brain. Your nerve endings in your nose are directly connected to your brain, by one synapse. They can put this in without disruption -- it's the most direct way and it's cleaner than the other way: rectally. There have to be cells in the brain that can detect IL-6. Substances can't act unless they have something to act with.
We didn't know that the response to infection or inflammation affects memory or sleep. That means simply, that if you had a bad dream, you'll remember the pain you [may] have had. That fact is exciting.
It's putting two great fields of medicine and science together. Cognition is the next frontier.
Everything that we thought was science fiction 10 years ago is considered passé and routine now. This lead is just the beginning. It's really exciting work -- that's why we put it on the cover.
I also asked him about the ethical dilemma posed by boosting memory with a nasal spray.
People have been doing that with other agents all along. Caffeine does that. We take drugs that effect the brain all the time: we drink alcohol, we smoke, we smoke other drugs and we take coffee.
There's another drug that affects cognition: it's called the Palm Pilot. Take Benadryl -- it makes you sleepy. So it's nothing that isn't already out there. The difference is that this happens during sleep.
Oct 1, 2009
"Side Effect Yes, DO NOT TAKE THIS IF YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER!!!!" why? part of the healing process for post traumatic stress disorder IS to remember and then talk about it.
As a side note, I fail to see how "Dr_Zinj" can reach the conclusion that one should not take IL-6 if one is suffering from PTSD. Clearly he does not understand either the study, or the basic principals behind the workings of human memory. This study indicates a role of IL-6 in the consolidation of short term emotional declarative memories. It does NOT imply any boost of emotional memory recall. As such, there is no evidence presented here that it would have any effect on the tendency of PTSD suffers to recall their past experiences, or the intensity of those recollections.
Having not read the official announcement myself, I can not comment on their language. If that was their wording, they themselves are misstating the facts. The issue here, however, is whether the information contained in an official announcement (press release?) meant for mainstream consumption from a lab such as this should be the ultimate source for information regarding such studies, or whether, instead, it should merely serve as a launching off point for more through information gathering. Due diligence would suggest that at the very minimum, the abstract of the paper, linked to in your article, be analyzed critically. Journalistically, one would have hoped that the actual paper would be read, and the paper's authors interviewed. While Dr Weissmann's input was useful filler, I do not feel it was really part of the central article. None of this is to in any way minimize the role of signaling molecules such as the interleukins. In fact, conservation principals and the numerous examples of other small molecule messengers serving multiple functions in different parts of the body (NO, oxytocin, epinephrine, etc. all have different effects in the central nervous system than they do in other parts of the body) make this, while interesting, hardly surprising. I also would have to questions Dr. Weissmann's assertions that "There have to be cells in the brain that can detect IL-6." While this is probably the case, one can not make this claim per se. Any number of alternative mechanisms of action exist. It is certainly possible that IL-6 operated on the nasal sensors themselves, which in turn regulated neural input. It is also possible that IL-6 acted peripherally, creating some localized response (e.g. stress, inflammation attenuation, etc.) that in turn resulted in effects on the amygdala that resulted in facilitation of emotional declarative consolidation. One can not make any conclusions without further study, and data. One can certainly not conclude that there "have to be cells in the brain that can detect IL-6." So again, while interesting, I do not feel the facts presented yet warrant the conclusions reached in this review.
Your point is well-taken, but the language in question is from the official announcement from the FASEB itself: "...helps the brain retain emotional and procedural memories during REM sleep." I appreciate your comment and I've amended the post to reflect your input, but bear in mind that this assertion came from the publication itself.
but when they DO find a way to boost general memory, be careful not to do it just before something you'd rather forget. Imagine how much it would suck having embarrassing and painful memories be that much more vivid and present in your mind. Plus, imagine the social awkwardness: "Hi, I'm Bob, nice to meet you." "I'm Jane, likewise" >snort< >snort
Having read the study in question, I have to say that the statements in this article is grossly inaccurate. First, you write: "helps the brain retain emotional and procedural memories during REM sleep." This is not true. Procedural memory is memory for actions and mechanical skills. Remembering lists of words, as in this study is "declarative memory." More importantly, this study is quite clear in stating that neither non emotional declarative nor procedural memory were affected by administration of IL-6. From the abstract of the paper: "IL-6 distinctly improved the sleep-related consolidation of emotional text material... . Other types of memory were not affected." In short, there was NO evidence of any benefit to either declarative or procedural memory, whereas this review either states or implies efficacy in both. While this study provides interesting information about the role of such molecules as IL-6 in cognition, it in no way supports any of the claims made in this highly inaccurate review. DeM Neuroscience University of Pittsburgh