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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Snails on trail of memory loss
Snails will be used to gain insight into how human memory works
Snails will be used to gain insight into how human memory works
Snails may hold the secret of why human memory deteriorates with age.

Scientists from the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Brighton are studying the pond snail, and say the creature may help them study changes to the nervous system which are caused by ageing.

Researchers will present their findings to the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Glasgow this week.

The conference will also hear that red and green algae, which grow on the south coast of England could help treat cancer.


All the work so far suggests that the mechanisms that the snail uses to remember things are essentially the same as the mechanisms that humans use

Dr Mark Yeoman, University of Brighton
It was already known that the green alga, Codium fragile, contains a chemical called clerosterol which acts against colon cancer, but both types also contain many more chemical compounds which may be even better at attacking tumours.

Pond snails can help study ageing because scientists can use the snails to study the effects of ageing on individual neurones on a whole nervous system.

The pond snail uses same biochemical methods of communication between neurones as humans, but on a much simpler scale.

The researchers will look at how the nerve cells in the brain change to allow the snails to learn, and if that process is affected by age.

Behaviour changes

Pond snails' nerve cells are 10 times larger than those in mammals.

They are also orange, so are easy to see under a microscope.

Before now, it has only been possible to study ageing's effects on single neurones in the laboratory.

The Brighton team will use new antioxidants - which limit the damage toxins and pollutants can do to the body - to slow ageing within the brain.

Dr Mark Yeoman, who is leading the research, said: "The main advantage of the snail model is that it allows us to relate changes in functions of individual nerve cells to changes in the behaviour of the animal.

"Mammalian systems are too complex for this."

Dr Yeoman and his team have already discovered that young snails instinctively feed more quickly than older ones because of changes to their nervous systems.

They next plan to study how ageing affects learned behaviours in the snails, such as training them to feed after a particular signal, which should give an idea about how humans are affected by memory loss.

Dr Yeoman added: "All the work so far suggests that the mechanisms that the snail uses to remember things are essentially the same as the mechanisms that humans use."

See also:

30 Apr 01 | Health
Stem cells 'improve rat memory'
06 Apr 01 | Health
'Bleeper' aids memory
16 Mar 01 | Health
'We can control memory'
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