Could hibernating animals provide clues into new treatments for degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s? As strange as it sounds, “bear” with me- it will make sense.
When animals such as bears, hedgehogs and mice hibernate, up to 20-30% of the synapses in the brain die in order to help the body preserve resources over the winter. You’d think that this would result is less-than-intelligent woodland animals, but surprisingly, that’s not the case. When they come out of hibernation in the spring, these synapses are restored. Researchers were able to simulate this in laboratory mice with Alzheimer’s Disease by cooling them to simulate hibernation. As their body temperature dropped, synapses were lost, but when they warmed up, the connections were re-formed.
Researchers found that a “cold-shock” chemical called RBM3 may be responsible for the re-formation of these synapses. It raises some questions: what would happen if RBM3 levels could be raised in human patients with Alzheimer’s? Would it be possible to restore synapses and reverse memory loss? Could synapses be protected before Alzheimer’s is advanced? This is interesting research- read more about it here.