Researchers have identified the main protein trigger of age-related memory loss — and that its memory-loss effects are reversible.

By recognizing the protein, RbAp48, investigators from the Columbia University Medical Center determined that Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory loss are distinct conditions.

Alzheimer’s signature plaques and tangles are not associated with RbAp48, according to this study. The protein, found in the hippocampus, affects age-related memory loss and, up until this study, had never been identified as the key memory-loss trigger.

To determine whether RbAp48 affects memory loss, the investigators inhibited the protein in mice, which caused them to experience memory deficits. When the protein’s inhibition was turned off, the mice’s memory returned to normal. The rodents, similar to humans, have more of the protein at a younger age and see it dissipate as they age.

The identification of this protein and its location in the brain could eventually help combat memory loss and develop drug therapy, the researchers said.

The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine.