An existing anti-seizure drug improves memory and brain function in adults with a form of cognitive impairment that often leads to full-blown Alzheimer's disease, a Johns Hopkins University study has found.
The findings raise the possibility that doctors will someday be able to use the drug, levetiracetam, already approved for use in epilepsy patients, to slow the abnormal loss of brain function in some aging patients before their condition becomes Alzheimer's. The researchers emphasize, however, that more studies are necessary before any such recommendation can be made to doctors and patients.
The effects seen in the study "could be like taking your foot off the accelerator or tapping the brakes, and possibly could slow the progression on that path [to Alzheimer's]," said principal investigator and neuroscientist Michela Gallagher. "We need further clinical studies with longer exposure to the drug to, first of all, make sure with rigorous evaluation that the drug is effective in the longer term and, equally important, that it does no harm."
The new study, presented July 20 at the International Congress on Alzheimer's Disease in Paris, also shows that excess brain activity in patients with a condition known as amnestic mild cognitive impairment, or aMCI, contributes to brain dysfunction that underlies memory loss. Previously, it had been thought that this hyperactivity was the brain's attempt to "make up" for weakness in its ability to form new memories.
The clinical study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, tested 34 participants, some healthy older adults and others with aMCI, meaning that they had memory difficulties greater than would be expected at their age. Each person participated in a sequence of two treatment phases lasting two weeks each. Patients received a low dose of levetiracetam during one phase and a placebo during the other.
After each treatment phase, the researchers evaluated subjects' m
|Contact: Lisa DeNike|
Johns Hopkins University