Skip to Content

Growth Hormone Boosts Brain Power

A little-studied protein improves memory in rats.
January 26, 2011

A protein involved in cell growth and repair also helps improve memory, according to research published today in the journal Nature. Researchers hope that the findings will point towards new therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and will shed light on the still mysterious process of memory formation.

The protein, called insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II), is most active during development, but it is also enriched in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is vital to memory. To test its role in memory, researchers from Mt Sinai School of Medicine first taught rodents to fear a darkened box by giving them a mild shock when they entered it. They animals will remember this shock for weeks, as evidenced by their reluctance to return to the box. Animals injected with IGF-II remembered this pairing more strongly and kept the memory longer than those that weren’t given the drug. Animals given a compound to block the action of the protein, which researchers found naturally rises after learning, forgot to fear the box.

According to ScienceNow:

“Their hesitation, or latency, more than doubled,” says neuroscientist Cristina Alberini, who led the research. “It’s a very potent effect.”

IGF-II improved a rodent’s memory only when administered in a precise window of time—roughly within 24 hours after the foot shock—which coincides with a stage in the learning process called “memory consolidation.” That’s a poorly understood transition period when a memory is still malleable but becoming more established and robust.

The results may also contribute to developing memory-boosting drugs. The fact that IGF-II is naturally occurring and can cross the blood-brain barrier makes it a promising candidate for treating memory-impairing diseases or even forgetfulness, Alberini notes. But any clinical applications are a long way off, as one key question remains unanswered—namely, how exactly IGF-II boosts memory. Preliminary results suggest the growth factor strengthens the connections between nerve cell synapses during consolidation, says Alberini. Her team’s next steps will explore the mechanism, in hopes of one day putting IGF-II to work in humans.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month

Gene sequencing gave an early alert about the latest covid variant. But we'll only know if omicron is a problem by watching it spread.

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

Passengers rest on the ticketing counter floor
Passengers rest on the ticketing counter floor

Why blanket travel bans won’t work to stop omicron

The aim was to stop the variant's spread, but these bans look like too little, too late.

Eight ways scientists are unwrapping the mysteries of the human brain

Optogenetics and advanced imaging have helped neuroscientists understand how memories form and made it possible to manipulate them.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.