Using a mouse model for Down syndrome, researchers in the NICHD Division of Intramural Research showed that administering neuroprotective peptides (small protein sub units) to mice before birth improves performance on memory and learning tasks as adults.
The peptides, NAP and SAL, are sub units of two proteins that enhance the ability of brain cells to receive and transmit signals, and that enable the cells to survive. The mice in the study had an extra copy of mouse chromosome 16, which has counterparts to 55% of the genes on human chromosome 21. Mice with the extra chromosomal material that were treated with NAP and SAL in the womb learned as well as mice that did not have the extra chromosome, and significantly faster than mice with the extra chromosome that were treated placebo.
In an earlier study, NICHD researchers showed that when mice with the extra copy of chromosome 16 were treated with NAP and SAL in the womb, they achieved developmental milestones earlier than did untreated mice. In this earlier study, the researchers examined developmental milestones for sensory, motor skill, and muscle tone in the first three weeks of life. Together these study findings show that NAP and SAL treatments improve both physical development and learning ability in a mouse model for Down syndrome (PMID: 23209818).