13 May 2018

Dr Kandel on memory loss in the elderly.

April 12 2018
The Eric Simon Lecture in Basic & Translational Neuroscience
Eric R. Kandel, MD
University Professor and Fred Kavli Professor
Department of Neuroscience
Columbia University
Senior Investigator
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Smilow Seminar Room
I had been invited by Addiction Textbook editor Dr Joyce Lowinson to a talk by Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel on memory loss in the elderly.  His Nobel Prize in 2002 was for work on snails and the laying down of short and long term memory in brain cells.  I sat in the front row next to a doctor from Bellevue Hospital where some of the rat experiments quoted by Prof Kandel had been done.  The speaker was introduced by Dr Eric Simon who was honoured by this annual address and who was the first to name endogenous endorphins in the human brain.
The initial point of the talk was to emphasise the important differences between Alzheimer’s disease and ‘benign senescent memory loss’.  The latter had first been described (allegedly) by a member of the audience and is a well known syndrome.  A side point was made that despite modern publications needing 20 or more pages plus appendices, Crick and Watson’s paper reporting the double helix was only 3 pages long.  And Sigmund Freud wrote some critical papers of a similar length.  Dr Kandel reported being at James Watson’s 90th birthday the week before.  We were indeed in the presence of greatness!  I might add that Dr McBride’s report of thalidomide consequences was less than half a page in Lancet.   
The most important message of the talk was that rodent experiments had confirmed the difference between modest memory loss due to age and Alzheimer’s Disease with amyloid build-ups, tangles and other typical pathological findings which can be induced in rats.  Dr Kandel’s main finding was that high levels of ‘osteocalcin’ were associated with benefits in retaining memory functions, even into old age (which for rats is 18 to 24 months).  It seems that this hormone is produced in osteoclasts mostly in bone but also in the circulating blood stream.  He also described on a specific haplotype which was apparently associated with low level of osteocalcin and a propensity to significant memory less. 
Over the past five years of research Dr Kandel found that the best way to elevate osteocalcin levels is to exercise to the level of walking about 3 kilometres every day (for a human – most of his experiments so far have been with rats).  There are numerous other benefits of walking for the heart, blood pressure, stress levels, etc, etc. 
There was a wide ranging and lively Q&A session after the presentation. An audience member asked if swimming was as good as walking but we were told that since one is weightless it is probably less effective on the bones producing osteocalcin … also, “one could drown” (a comic interjection from an Israeli colleague in the audience – to which the speaker quipped “you Israelis are always worried about existential threats”).  I asked Dr Kandel if taking exogenous osteocalcin would do the same as exercise.  Some enterprising audience members had already searched for supplies and found some company allegedly selling the chemical already!  This remains to be trialled, it appears. 
My neighbour from Bellevue had done some rat trials and told me quietly that their rats were very keen on exercise, running on their treadmills for hours on end, thus improving their experimental memory scores into ‘old age’ (>18 months for rats).  I wanted to ask whether they were in small cages or ‘rat-park’ enclosures as per Bruce Alexander’s work in Canada but time ran out and I may never know. 
Notes by Andrew Byrne .. visiting addictions physician from Sydney, Australia. 

Summary in brief in talk by Dr Kandel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X15zFT7jyh4
Also brilliant TED talk on neuroscience approach to portraiture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyc7FIglkHI