In another memory test, however, the treated mice did not show improved performance compared to untreated mice. In this test--which depends on the function of another Alzheimer's-affected brain region called the amygdala--the mice were required to learn to associate a dark chamber with an unpleasant shock.
Analyzing the brain tissue of the untreated and treated mice, the researchers found that treatment with AF267B reduced levels of both pathological plaques and tangles in the cortex and hippocampus, but not in the amygdala.
In experiments that demonstrated the central role of M1 receptors in AD-like pathology, the researchers also tested the effects on the mice of another drug, dicyclomine, that blocks M1 receptors. They found that both normal and knockout mice treated with the drug showed the characteristic learning and memory impairments, as well as amyloid and tangle pathologies.
The researchers also studied the effects of AF267B treatment on key enzymes involved in amyloid protein processing in the cell. They found evidence that the drug appears to work by affecting levels of these enzymes, as a result of its enhancement of M1 receptor activity.
The researchers concluded that "the results of the present study show the remarkable therapeutic potential of AF267B in attenuating the major hallmark neuropathological lesions relevant to AD and in restoring cognitive function, at least for certain tasks." They also pointed out the importance of the finding that administering dicyclomine to block M1 receptors exacerbated the disease pathologies.
"Further work, including clinical trials in humans, will be necessary to determine if this new generation of M1 agonists will produce a similar therapeutic efficacy as was observed in the [knockout] mice," they concluded.