Neuroscientists Explain 'Chemo Brain'

New research found that drugs used to treat cancer block
memory mechanisms.
It is estimated that as many as half of patients taking cancer drugs experience a decrease in mental sharpness. While there have been many theories, what causes "chemo brain" has eluded scientists. In an effort to solve this mystery, neuroscientists conducted an experiment in an animal memory model and their results point to a possible explanation. Findings appeared in The Journal of Neuroscience.
In the study involving a sea snail that shares many of the same memory mechanisms as humans and a drug used to treat a variety of cancers, the scientists identified memory mechanisms blocked by the drug. Then, they were able to counteract or unblock the mechanisms by administering another agent. The research has great implications in the care of people given to cognitive deficits following drug treatment for cancer, as there is no satisfactory treatment at this time.
While much work remains, understanding how these drugs impact the brain is an important first step in alleviating this condition characterized by forgetfulness, trouble concentrating and difficulty multitasking. When the team compared cell cultures taken from normal snails to those administered a dose of a cancer drug called doxorubicin, the investigators pinpointed a neuronal pathway that was no longer passing along information properly.
With the aid of an experimental drug, the scientists were able to reopen the pathway. Unfortunately, this drug would not be appropriate for humans, however the team want to identify other drugs that can rescue these memory mechanism. The scientists confirmed their findings in tests on the nerve cells of rats. According the American Cancer Society, some of the distressing mental changes cancer patients experience may last a short time or go on for years.