According to an article in the New York Times, researchers have found that if they turn off a gene that is associated with Alzheimer’s, mice become smarter in the lab. The researchers said the mice “were far more adept at sensing environmental changes than other mice.”

Dr. James Bibb led the study which used genetic engineering to breed mice and turn off the gene (Cdk5) which controls a brain enzyme linked to diseases. Dr. Bibb believes that Cdk5 may be contributing to the loss of neurons. He states that the mice without the Cdk5 gene are better at tasks based on associated learning and perform better at negotiating a maze.

Dr. Bibb credits the inspiration of his work to the 1999 discovery of Doogie mice at Princeton University (named for the child prodigy on television, Doogie Houser, MD). The mice at Princeton were bred by manipulating NR2B, a gene also associated with memory. Professor Bibb said “It turns out that Cdk5 was controlling the regulation of NR2B. Maybe by finding these new mechanisms we can find new drugs that improve the cognitive performance of people who have deficits.”

Dr. Bibb and his colleagues are working on the development of drugs that would create the same effect without genetic alteration. The long term effects of drugs such as these are unknown at this time.