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Experimental Alzheimer's drug reverses genetic changes

Experimental Alzheimer's drug reverses genetic changes
9th May 2016

A team at Rockefeller University have identified a new drug that could help undo the genetic changes that appear to drive Alzheimer's disease, potentially suggesting an innovative avenue of treatment for the condition.

It is well known that ageing has an impact on the brain, with the cells needed for memory and learning being especially vulnerable to changes. Experts believe it is activity in this area - the hippocampus - that can lead to Alzheimer's disease or cognitive decline.

In a bid to discover ways to counteract these genetic changes, researchers looked at the effect of a drug that has proven to have an impact on the hippocampus. They focused on a specific chemical signal - glutamate - which can damage the pathways leading to the brain.

Their findings, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, revealed that a drug called riluzole was able to reverse key genetic changes that are associated with Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline.

Led by Dr Ana Pereira, instructor in clinical medicine at Rockefeller University, the team found that riluzole caused a number of changes. However, the most important discovery was that it helped boost the level of a specific type of molecule, which works to clear excess amounts of glutamate - that causes damage to the hippocampus - from the brain.

Glutamate is released to encourage other neurons but, as we age, it can build up, which can cause significant problems. High levels of glutamate can damage and kill neurons in the brain, contributing to Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders.

Dr Pereira and co-first author Jason Gray wanted to better understand the role of riluzole. They found that the drug was able to counteract the neurological changes caused by Alzheimer's disease in the brain.

"We hope to use a medication to break the cycle of toxicity by which glutamate can damage the neurons that use it as a neurotransmitter, and our studies so far suggest that riluzole may be able to accomplish this," Dr Pereira says.

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