Research has found that an epilepsy drug – levetiracetam – can reduce some features of Alzheimer’s in mice. The study is published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Changes in electrical activity in the brain have been reported in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Mice bred to develop signs of Alzheimer’s also show abnormal electrical activity in their brains, along with behavioural changes and cognitive problems. Drugs like levetiracetam are used to keep irregular electrical activity under control in epilepsy, and the study aimed to test the ability of the epilepsy drug to reduce features of the Alzheimer’s in mice.
The scientists used a mouse developed to show high levels of a protein called amyloid in the brain. Amyloid is known to build up in the brain in the disease in humans, but scientists are unsure of its exact role in the disease. The mice showed abnormal electrical activity in the brain, and the team tested a panel of seven anti-epilepsy drugs to see whether they could reduce this activity in the mice.
They found that a single injection of levetiracetam was able to calm the brain activity in the mice for several hours and chronic administration of the drug over 28 days could halve the abnormal brain activity. Treatment with the drug also appeared to reduce behavioural changes in the mice, and they performed better on learning and memory tasks. Within 35 days after stopping treatments, the abnormal behaviours began to show again.
While the team showed that levetiracetam was not able to reduce the amount of amyloid in the brains of the mice, the drug was able to improve communication between nerve cells.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This interesting study reports benefits of an epilepsy drug in mice with features of Alzheimer’s. While it is not clear exactly how this drug may be working, studies like this are important for helping us to understand features of the disease and suggest potential new approaches for treatment. We know that Alzheimer’s in humans is much more complex than in mice, and clinical trials with levetiracetam will be needed to show whether these benefits would hold true in people.
“With more than 25 million people in the UK touched by the effects of dementia, there is a desperate need for new and effective treatments. Understanding the diseases that cause dementia is vital for developing new treatments, but this is only possible through research. With research into dementia hugely underfunded compared to other diseases, sustained investment is crucial for driving progress forward.”
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