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NOVA scienceNOW: Of Mice and Memory

Program Overview

This segment describes the learning and memory experiments Alzheimer's researchers perform on mice to better understand the disease and whether memory can be restored.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • states that Alzheimer's disease robs people of their memories and personality.

  • theorizes that environmental enrichment promotes brain nerve cell connections and rewiring, resulting in a higher level of memory function.

  • describes the experiments in which mice learn the location of a pool exit. Researchers then use a toxin to impair the memory of some of the mice, making them unable to find the exit. After environmental enrichment (i.e., cages with more equipment), this memory is restored, enabling the mice to again locate the pool exit.

  • presents examples of people regaining parts of their personalities and memory after being moved from sterile, assisted-living environments to more stimulating ones.

  • explains that in brain nerve cell nuclei, DNA is often tightly coiled around spool-like proteins called histones, hiding some learning and memory genes. However, when the DNA loosens, these genes become exposed and available for transcription. As this happens, nerve cells make more and stronger connections with each other.

  • notes that the mice that regained their memories after environmental enrichment had "loosened" histone DNA coils, which allowed their memory genes to become exposed and active.

  • reports that certain experimental drugs can help loosen the DNA in brain nerve cells and have helped mice with damaged brain cells regain memories.

  • postulates that in the future, specific medicines may be developed to help people regain memories lost because of brain disease or damage.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Of Mice and Memory