An FDA-approved anti-epileptic drug reverses memory loss and alleviates other Alzheimer’s-related impairments in an animal model of the disease, according to scientists at the Gladstone Institutes.
Scientists in the laboratory of Lennart Mucke, MD, who directs neurological research at Gladstone, conducted the research on mice genetically modified to simulate key aspects of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, they showed how levetiracetam—a drug commonly prescribed for patients who suffer from epilepsy—suppresses abnormal brain activity and restores memory function in these mice.
“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,” said Dr. Mucke, who is also a professor of neurology and neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), with which Gladstone is affiliated.
“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,” the researcher stated.
Healthy activity in neuronal networks is critical for essential brain functions such as memory. Alzheimer’s wreaks havoc on these brain networks, causing disruptions that occasionally escalate into epileptic seizures.
When the Gladstone scientists administered levetiracetam to the Alzheimer’s mouse model, they found that abnormal network activity in their brains dropped by 50 percent in less than a day.
After two weeks of treatment, the neurons’ ability to communicate with each other improved. The mice also showed better learning and memory in a maze test. Finally, the researchers observed that several proteins that are important for healthy brain function returned to normal levels.
“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,” said Dr. Sanchez.
Still, further research is required before the drug is prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Until larger human trials have been completed, we caution against any off-label use of levetiracetam,” Dr. Mucke said.
Their findings are ready for online publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.