Veronica Galvan, assistant professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, part of the University of Texas Health Science Center, said rapamycin -- a bacterial product first isolated from soil on Easter Island -- enhanced learning and memory in young mice and improved these faculties in old mice.
"We made the young ones learn, and remember what they learned, better than what is normal," Galvan said in a statement. "Among the older mice, the ones fed with a diet including rapamycin actually showed an improvement, negating the normal decline that you see in these functions with age."
The drug lowered anxiety and depressive-like behavior in the mice, Galvan said.
Lead author Jonathan Halloran said anxiety and depression are factors that impair human cognitive performance.
"We found rapamycin acts like an antidepressant -- it increases the time the mice were trying to get out of the situation," Galvan said.
The reduction of anxiety and depressive-like behavior in rapamycin-treated mice held true for all ages tested.
Rapamycin is an anti-fungal agent administered to transplant patients to prevent organ rejection. The drug is named for Rapa Nui, the Polynesian title for Easter Island, 2,000 miles from any population centers, that is the famed site of nearly 900 mysterious monolithic statues.
This study was published online in the journal Neuroscience.