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The anatomy of memory loss.

The anatomy of memory loss

In animal experiments and autopsies of human brains, researchers have found that the hippocampal formation -- an inner-brain region consisting of the hippocampus and several other related structures -- is critical for the formation of long-term memory. Now, through the use of magnetic resonance imaging -- a technique that exposes the anatomy of living brains--scientists have identified an abnormality in the hippocampal formation of amnesia patients.

The most complete magnetic resonance images of the hippocampal formation are obtained when patients lie down with their heads tilted back, a procedure not used previously, say Gary A. Press of the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine and his colleagues. Magnetic resonance used in this way may help clinicians diagnose Alzheimer's disease in its early stages, they maintain, since autopsies of Alzheimer's patients have revealed extensive damage to the hippocampal formation.

The researchers examined magnetic resonance images of the brains of three men with amnesia and four healthy male controls. Amnesia patients scored extremely low on memory tests, but they had normal intelligence and performed well on tests of general thinking abilities.

The size of the hippocampal formation in the amnesia patients was just under half that of the healthy controls, the investigators report in the Sept. 7 NATURE. Thus, they conclude, reductions in the area of the hippocampal formation, combined with symptoms of memory loss, may signal the presence of Alzheimer's disease.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 23, 1989
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