GOTTINGEN, Germany, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- German scientists say a protein hormone used to increase blood production in medical treatments and boost athletic performance might also improve memory.
Max Planck Institute researchers say the memory-enhancing effects of erythropoietin, known as EPO, aren't related to its effects on blood production but are due to direct influences on neurons in the brain. The researchers, led by Hannelore Ehrenreich, said their findings might prove useful in the treatment of diseases affecting brain function, such as schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's.
Patients given EPO to treat chronic kidney failure had been observed to have improved cognition after starting the drug.
"These effects of EPO were thought to result from the blood-boosting effects of the drug," said Ehrenreich, "but the finding of receptors for EPO on nerve cells in the brain suggests that some other mechanism might be involved.
"Young mice systematically treated with EPO for three weeks have improved memory, similar to … improvements observed in endurance and muscular performance (by) athletes who use EPO to boost performance," he said, noting the specific memory improvements were associated with the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in learning and memory.
The study appears in the journal BMC Biology.