Are you cramming for an exam and annoyed that you cannot learn more in less time or are you frustrated that you keep forgetting more as you get older? A possible solution for such memory problems may surprise you.
It is well known that people live longer nowadays because of better nutrition and improved medical care. The large aged population that has emerged has typical problems of old age like memory loss and impairments in forming long term memories. Therefore scientific research has increased its focus on finding ways to combat these memory impairments that appear as we get older.
A possible route to improve memory that is currently under investigation is the effect of insulin-like growth factor 2 (IGF2). IGF2 is a member of the insulin system along with insulin and IGF1. IGF2 is present in the brain during development and throughout life but declines as people get older. The highest concentrations of IGF2 are found in brain areas that are important for memory like the hippocampus. Therefore it is speculated that increasing IGF2 might enhance memory.
At first, the insulin system was considered to have no effect in the brain because early research found no role for insulin in the uptake of glucose in the brain as it does in the rest of the body. But because insulin and insulin receptors are present in the brain, research into the possible neuromodulatory role of the insulin system continued.
The effects of IGF1 and insulin on memory have been studied more extensively than IGF2. After researchers found that insulin and IGF1 had a positive effect on enhancing several types of memory in animals it was also administered to humans to test its effects on our memory. This gave similar promising results and led to investigations into IGF2 as another possible memory enhancer.
Recently, researchers injected the hippocampi of rats with IGF2 and found that it enhanced memory, facilitated long-term potentiation (better signal transmission between neurons) and reduced forgetting. In mice IGF2 injections enhanced retention and endurance of working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory. The possible mechanism behind memory enhancement with IGF2 is that IGF2 increases the expression of two proteins in the hippocampus, Arc and Zif268, which are important in long-term potentiation and memory. Using IGF2 injections seems to be a safe way to enhance memory because it does not have any adverse effects on physical wellbeing, behavior or motor responses. Another advantage is that it is a natural substance that is easily administered and shows effects after just one dose.
Until now, the relationship between IGF2 and memory has only been tested in animals. But since these studies show such positive results and no adverse effects, it can hopefully soon be used in humans to enhance our memory. Because even when you are young, a memory boost to speed up learning may sound very appealing.