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

Noninvasive eye scan could detect key signs of Alzheimer's years before patients show symptoms

August 17, 2017
Cedars-Sinai neuroscience investigators have found that Alzheimer's disease affects the retina—the back of the eye—similarly to the way it affects the brain. The study also revealed that an investigational, noninvasive ...

Could olfactory loss point to Alzheimer's disease?

August 16, 2017
By the time you start losing your memory, it's almost too late. That's because the damage to your brain associated with Alzheimer's disease (AD) may already have been going on for as long as twenty years. Which is why there ...

New Machine Learning program shows promise for early Alzheimer's diagnosis

August 15, 2017
A new machine learning program developed by researchers at Case Western Reserve University appears to outperform other methods for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease before symptoms begin to interfere with every day living, initial ...

Brain scan study adds to evidence that lower brain serotonin levels are linked to dementia

August 14, 2017
In a study looking at brain scans of people with mild loss of thought and memory ability, Johns Hopkins researchers report evidence of lower levels of the serotonin transporter—a natural brain chemical that regulates mood, ...

Alzheimer's risk linked to energy shortage in brain's immune cells

August 14, 2017
People with specific mutations in the gene TREM2 are three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who carry more common variants of the gene. But until now, scientists had no explanation for the link.

Scientists reveal role for lysosome transport in Alzheimer's disease progression

August 7, 2017
Researchers from Yale University School of Medicine have discovered that defects in the transport of lysosomes within neurons promote the buildup of protein aggregates in the brains of mice with Alzheimer's disease. The study, ...

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.