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Epilepsy Drug Can Reverse Memory Loss In Alzheimer’s Patients

August 21, 2012

According to a study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an FDA-approved anti-epileptic drug has been found to reverse memory loss in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease .

The study, conducted by researchers at the Gladstone Institutes, also found that the drug, called levetiracetam, alleviates other Alzheimer’s related impairments by suppressing abnormal brain activity. Levetiracetam is often prescribed to individuals who suffer from epilepsy.

At present, around 5.4 million people in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s, and this figure is expected to increase three fold by the year 2050.

Dr. Lennart Mucke, M.D., who directs neurological research at Gladstone, and is a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), with which Gladstone is affiliated, explained:

“For the millions of people suffering from Alzheimer’s worldwide, we have no effective drug to prevent or reverse memory loss – the hallmark symptom of this ultimately fatal disease. This study builds on our earlier findings linking Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. It provides new insights into the processes underlying memory loss in Alzheimer’s and demonstrates the ability of an anti-epileptic drug to block these processes.”

Essential brain functions, such as memory, need healthy activity in neuronal networks in order to work efficiently. However, Alzheimer’s disease interferes with these brain networks, causing disruptions that can result in epileptic seizures.

Gladstone Postdoctoral Fellow Pascal Sanchez, Ph.D., explained: “But whether such neuronal-network disruptions also impair memory was unknown. So we screened seven FDA-approved anti-epileptic medications – including levetiracetam – in our Alzheimer’s mouse model to see if minimizing these network disruptions could improve memory.”

After administering the drug to mice, the team discovered that abnormal network activity in their brains decreased by 50% in less than 24 hours. After two weeks of treatment, the neurons’ ability to communicate with each other also improved.

In a maze test the researchers found that the mice also showed better learning and memory and that several proteins that are vital for healthy brain function returned to normal levels.

Dr. Sanchez explained: “We are now building on these findings and working to identify the precise mechanism by which this drug reduces brain-network dysfunction and improves memory in our mouse models.”

Just a few months ago researchers at Johns Hopkins University published a study revealing the beneficial effects of the drug in a small group of patients with mild cognitive impairment. However, more research is needed before levetiracetam is prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Mucke said:

“Until larger human trials have been completed, we caution against any off-label use of levetiracetam. But the consistency between our findings and those just obtained by our colleagues at Johns Hopkins is truly remarkable and, in my opinion, merits additional clinical trials.”



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