PhotoHaving that first cup of coffee in the morning can be a great way to start your day, but could it also help keep your memory sharp as you age? One recent study shows that maybe it can.

A multinational collaboration -- including researchers from France, Germany, and the United States – has found that caffeine can combat the effects of age-related memory impairment. This could point to another way to slow the decline of memory function in older consumers and those affected by cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

The researchers have confirmed that a certain receptor in the brain, called adenosine A2AR, is linked to memory impairments related to age. Following up on previous research, they were able to manipulate this receptor to induce a sort of “early aging” that led to the release of hormones related to stress and memory loss.

“This is part of a larger study initiated 4 years ago in which we identified the role of this receptor in stress, but we did not know whether its activation would be sufficient to trigger all the changes. We now found that by altering the amount of this receptor alone in neurons from hippocampus and cortex – memory related areas – is sufficient to induce a profile that we designate as ‘early-aging’ combining the memory loss and an increase in stress hormones in plasma (cortisol),” said Luisa Lopes, coordinator of the study.

Potential therapeutic target

In order to prevent the onset of early aging, the researchers tested a caffeine analogue on animal models. They found that caffeine blocked the receptor from acting properly, which in turn normalized the memory- and stress-related deficits that were created beforehand.

The researchers believe that their work could allow medical professionals a means of treating memory-related problems in older people and those affected cognitive disorders. Additionally, it has opened the door for further research on the causes of memory dysfunction.

“In elderly people, we know there is an increase of stress hormones that have an impact on memory. Our work supports the view that the precognitive effects of A2AR antagonists, namely caffeine, observed in Alzheimer’s and age-related cognitive impairments may rely on this ability to counteract the loss of stress controlling mechanisms that occurs upon aging,” said researcher director David Blum.

“This is important not only to understand the fundamental changes that occur upon aging, but it also identifies the dysfunctions of the adenosine A2AR receptor as a key player in triggering these changes. And a very appealing therapeutic target,” added Lopes.

The full study has been published in Scientific Reports.

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