Epilepsy drug levetiracetam reverses memory loss in animal model of Alzheimer's disease

August 6, 2012

Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes have discovered that an FDA-approved anti-epileptic drug reverses memory loss and alleviates other Alzheimer's-related impairments in an animal model of the disease.

Scientists in the laboratory of Lennart Mucke, MD, who directs at Gladstone, conducted the research on genetically modified to simulate key aspects of . In the study, they show how —a drug commonly prescribed for patients who suffer from epilepsy—suppresses abnormal brain activity and restores function in these mice. They are publishing their findings online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The news comes at a critical time of renewed focus on this most prevalent of neurodegenerative diseases—and amid a dearth of medications that prevent, halt or reverse the increasingly common condition. Alzheimer's afflicts 5.4 million people in the United States alone—a figure expected to nearly triple by 2050.

"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 in Alzheimer's and demonstrates the ability of an anti-epileptic drug to block these processes."

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.

"But whether such neuronal-network disruptions also impair memory was unknown," said Gladstone Postdoctoral Fellow Pascal Sanchez, PhD, who is the paper's lead author. "So we screened seven -approved anti-epileptic medications—including levetiracetam—in our Alzheimer's mouse model to see if minimizing these network disruptions could improve memory."

When the Gladstone scientists administered levetiracetam to the mice, they found that abnormal network activity in their brains dropped by 50% 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.

The relevance of this discovery to people with Alzheimer's disease is underscored by research that scientists at Johns Hopkins University published just a few months ago. Their study revealed beneficial effects of levetiracetam in a small group of patients with mild cognitive impairment—a condition that often precedes Alzheimer's. Still, further research is required before the 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. "But the consistency between our findings and those just obtained by our colleagues at Johns Hopkins is truly remarkable and, in my opinion, merits additional clinical trials."

Explore further: Scientists identify mechanism that could contribute to problems in Alzheimer's

Related Stories

Scientists identify mechanism that could contribute to problems in Alzheimer's

April 26, 2012
Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes have unraveled a process by which depletion of a specific protein in the brain contributes to the memory problems associated with Alzheimer's disease. These findings provide new insights ...

Cholesterol drug shows benefit in animal study of Alzheimer's disease

April 3, 2012
A cholesterol drug commonly prescribed to reduce cardiovascular disease risk restores blood vessel function in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study in the April 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. ...

Drug improves brain function in condition that leads to Alzheimer's

July 20, 2011
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.

Recommended for you

Is the Alzheimer's gene the ring leader or the sidekick?

September 15, 2017
The notorious genetic marker of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, ApoE4, may not be a lone wolf.

Potential noninvasive test for Alzheimer's disease

September 6, 2017
In the largest and most conclusive study of its kind, researchers have analysed blood samples to create a novel and non-invasive way of helping to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and distinguishing between different types of ...

Researchers unlock the molecular origins of Alzheimer's disease

September 6, 2017
A "twist of fate" that is minuscule even on the molecular level may cause the development of Alzheimer's disease, VCU researchers have found.

Is dementia declining among older Americans?

September 5, 2017
(HealthDay)—Here's some good news for America's seniors: The rates of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia have dropped significantly over the last decade or so, a new study shows.

Which genetic marker is the ring leader in the onset of Alzheimer's disease?

September 4, 2017
The notorious genetic marker of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, ApoE4, may not be a lone wolf.

A decline in navigational skills could predict neurodegenerative disease

August 30, 2017
Changes in how humans map their surroundings and construct and follow directions as they age have been understudied compared to effects on memory and learning. However, age-related declines in navigational ability are independent ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Sinister1811
1 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2012
Excellent. It would be interesting to find out if this drug could actually restore memory in other diseases/conditions as well. Although, I guess it depends on whether or not they'd share a similar pathology to Alzheimer's Disease.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.