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Who's in the Video
Ottavio Arancio is Associate Professor of Pathology & Cell Biology at the Columbia University Medical Center. He received his Ph.D and M.D. from the University of Pisa in Italy. Dr.[…]

Simply paying attention can do a lot to improve recollection, but scientists are also working on a wide variety of memory-boosting drugs.

Question: What factors affect our memory?

Ottavio Arancio:  One of the biggest factors that can affect it is attention for instance.  I mean if you do not pay attention to something it’s very likely that you will learn what you have… yeah, what you just saw.  For instance, just to make an example I bet that many people… many of us remember what we did on September 11 because you know there was a coincidence of just we paid particular attention to all what happened that day.  I bet that much less people will remember what happened the day before or 2 days before.  So that’s… attention is also… is very, very important.  Another factor that is very important would be motivation to…  If you don’t care about doing something you will not learn about it if you are depressed or things like that, you will not learn what you just saw, what you just did.  You will not memorize what you just did.  Obviously you need to be able to perceive the stimulus.  If you cannot see, no way that you will remember or if you do not hear you cannot remember words.  So we need to be able to get to those things.  This is stuff that we…help remembering.  Obviously those are not the only things because we can monitor also through chemicals and other ways also memories and hopefully in the future we’ll be even better at that.  So we can also stimulate memory chemically. 

Question: How do memory enhancing chemicals work?

Ottavio Arancio:  What they do, they will work at the level of the synaptic connection and since at the time of memory there is a chain of chemical reaction at the level of the synapse, but chemical means the same…protein, enzyme, molecule are activated.  What we do, we kind of force the system activation through this chemical and through the knowledge of these chemicals to enhance memory, and we do this very well in animals and hopefully we’ll be able to do it in people as well.

Question: What chemicals can do this?

Ottavio Arancio: There are many chemicals that one can use to enhance memory and there are many proteins that are relevant to the process of learning and memory.  For instance, all chemicals that act on a particular gene by the name of CREB that they stimulate this gene and they can do in several different ways, are all molecules that in animals work quite well at enhancing memory. 

Question: Are these chemicals available now?

Ottavio Arancio: No, they are.  They are available, but we can give an extra additional amount.  What we do with these chemicals, we take advantage of knowledge of what normally happens in nature and we little bit push in this.  Aiding disease is even easier because sometimes if in disease we find out one of these chemicals is less in lower amount than what it would be normally we just help the process by giving it artificially.