Gene editing to enhance cognition and memory recall

The brains of two genetically edited girls born in China last year may have been changed in ways that enhance cognition and memory, scientists say.

The twins, called Lulu and Nana, reportedly had their genes modified before birth by a Chinese scientific team using the new editing tool CRISPR. The goal was to make the girls immune to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Now, new research shows that the same alteration introduced into the girls’ DNA, deletion of a gene called CCR5, not only makes mice smarter but also improves human brain recovery after stroke, and could be linked to greater success in school.

The science behind this

Decreasing the function of CCR5 increases MAPK/CREB signaling, long-term potentiation (LTP), and hippocampus-dependent memory in mice. On the other hand neuronal CCR5 overexpression caused memory deficits.

Decreasing CCR5 function in mouse barrel cortex also resulted in enhanced spike timing dependent plasticity and consequently, dramatically accelerated experience-dependent plasticity. These results suggest that CCR5 is a powerful suppressor for plasticity and memory, and CCR5 over-activation by viral proteins may contribute to HIV-associated cognitive deficits. Overall, results demonstrate that CCR5 plays an important role in neuroplasticity, learning and memory, and indicate that CCR5 has a role in the cognitive deficits caused by HIV. Of course detailed studies have to be carried with HIV inhibitors that block CCR5. Here, cognitively challenged individuals (stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s) can be given CCR5 inhibitor and the improvement in their cognition can be tracked over a course of 3–6 months.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia research has not really delivered any cures or transformational treatment options. This is the time that the broader scientific and industry community should look beyond conventional approaches to find a cure for these illnesses. This approach has a lot of promise.

Aman is a technology and neuroscience aficionado and is passionate about the role of data in automating various industries.