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Research Links Hunger Hormone to Learning and Memory

EndocrinologyFeb 25, 06

The hormone produced in the stomach that tells you you’re hungry also helps you remember and learn, according to a new study co-authored by Saint Louis University scientists.

While more research is needed, the findings could point to a new direction for a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease: a replacement therapy for ghrelin, the hunger hormone, to restore memory.

“This shows a direct link between the stomach and the brain,” says John E. Morley, M.D., director of the division of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University and study researcher. “A human is truly what he or she eats.”

The research is published in an on-line edition of Nature Neuroscience. It shows that high levels of ghrelin, which is the hormone that regulates our appetite, trigger activity in the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory performance.

The researchers compared mice that had normal ghrelin levels with those that had the ghrelin-producing gene switched off. Those that lacked the gene did not do as well on a battery of behavioral tests.

After those without the gene received ghrelin replacement therapy, their memory improved and ability to learn was restored.

“Ghrelin may have a physiological role in maintaining memory,” Morley says.

He speculated that the ghrelin response could date back to the time when man had to forage for food when he was hungry.

“If you’re searching for food, it’s convenient to have a message going to the brain that says, ‘next time, remember this because you will get hungry and might need to find the spot again,’” he says.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and a VA Merit Review grant. Yale University was the lead institution on the research.

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