The human brain holds some 5 billion neurons; each neuron has between 30,000 to 100,000 connections, or synapses, that store everything happening today as the long-term memories of tomorrow. You can never have too many neurons, because as they age and disappear, expiring neurons leave behind a number of diseases and conditions that have stood firm against any remedy researchers have so far devised.
What would it take to stimulate these neurons to make connections that are stronger or weaker, or even create new links? This is what researcher Patric K. Stanton, Ph.D., has been trying to figure out for 25 years, the last 6 as a professor of cell biology and anatomy, with a secondary appointment in neurology, at New York Medical College. This is how Dr. Stanton explained the relevance of his quest when he applied to the NIH for the $2,453,000 grant he was awarded in 2004 (renewed in 2008) that runs through mid-2013:
“How brain electrical activity changes connection strengths between neurons is believed to be critical to how the brain stores memories. In particular, long-term changes in neurotransmitter release are relatively understudied. This work is potentially vital to our understanding of normal memory storage, and diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to epilepsy, in which neurotransmitter release and plasticity may be dysfunctional.”
It is potentially important to make drugs and stimulators to improve memory storage because, he says, “Even if we can’t fix genetic causes, maybe we can stimulate the synapses that are still there, and delay the neurodegenerative disease process.”