CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, patients typically suffer a major loss of the brain connections necessary for memory and information processing. Now, a combination of nutrients that was developed at MIT has shown the potential to improve memory in Alzheimer's patients by stimulating growth of new brain connections.
In a clinical trial of 225 Alzheimer's patients, researchers found that a cocktail of three naturally occurring nutrients believed to promote growth of those connections, known as synapses, plus other ingredients (B vitamins, phosopholipids and antioxidants), improved verbal memory in patients with mild Alzheimer's.
"If you can increase the number of synapses by enhancing their production, you might to some extent avoid that loss of cognitive ability," says Richard Wurtman, the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, who did the basic research that led to the new experimental treatment. He is an author of a paper describing the new results in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, though some medications can slow the progression of the disease. In particular, many U.S. patients take cholinesterase inhibitors, which increase levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for learning and memory.
While those treatments target the symptoms of Alzheimer's, Wurtman hopes to attack what he believes is the root cause of the disease: loss of synapses. The three nutrients in his dietary cocktail uridine, choline and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (all normally present in breast milk) are precursors to the fatty molecules that make up brain cell membranes, which form synapses.
In animal studies, Wurtman has shown that these nutrients boost the number of dendritic spines (small outcroppings of neural membranes). When those spines contact another neuron, a synapse is formed.
|Contact: Jennifer Hirsch|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology