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Memory function 'changes with age'

23rd November 2006

New research has suggested that memory may become more difficult with age because the brain begins to store information in a different way.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, found that the number of "silent synapses" in the brain, or reactors that appear to recognise a stimulus from previous experience, decreases with age.

In the Medical Research Council-funded research, the exact way in which the synapses respond to stimuli at various stages of ageing in addition to variations as a consequence of its original state and previous experience were studied.

"Silent synapses help to establish fresh networks of memories in the brain, mature synapses recycle the networks that are already there," said Dr Nigel Emptage, leader of the study at the University of Oxford.

"As we age, the reason our brains may find it harder to record memories could be because there are fewer silent synapses. This might help to explain why it is harder to remember things as we grow older."

The Medical Research Council is a publicly funded organisation which invests money in scientific investigations on behalf of the taxpayer.

Its research varies from science at a molecular level, to public health research.