Genetically Forgetful

Cursed with a bad memory? You might have your parents to thank. Scientists have found that forgetfulness may run in the family.

By Jason Williams, published on May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 30, 2005

If you have trouble remembering which day you went to the beach
last week or whether you mailed your bills on Friday or Saturday, you may
have your genes to thank.

A variation in a protein that influences the growth and maintenance
of neurons has been linked to an impaired ability to remember one's
experiences. The variation affects the hippocampus, a region of the brain
critical to memory. More than one third of people inherit one copy of the
variation from a parent.

The degree to which memory is affected depends on whether one
inherits a copy of the variation from one or both parents, says Daniel
Weinberger, M.D., lead researcher in the study published in the journal
Cell. If both parents pass on a copy of the variation, their child's
memory will be worse than that of a child who inherited one or no
copies.

Researchers believe the variation might increase susceptibility to
other conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease or mood disorders. However,
they also suggest the variation may exist because it provides an
undiscovered benefit.