Drug restores brain function and memory in early Alzheimer's disease

March 11, 2015
Diagram of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's Disease. Credit: Wikipedia/public domain.

A novel therapeutic approach for an existing drug reverses a condition in elderly patients who are at high risk for dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found.

The drug, commonly used to treat epilepsy, calms hyperactivity in the brain of patients with amnestic (aMCI), a clinically recognized condition in which memory impairment is greater than expected for a person's age and which greatly increases risk for Alzheimer's dementia, according to the study published this week in NeuroImage: Clinical.

The findings validate the Johns Hopkins team's initial conclusions, published three years ago in the journal Neuron. They also closely match the results in animal studies performed by the team and scientists elsewhere. Next, neuroscientist Michela Gallagher, the lead investigator, hopes the therapy will be tested in a large-scale, longer-term clinical trial.

Hippocampal over-activity is well-documented in patients with aMCI and its occurrence predicts further cognitive decline and progression to Alzheimer's dementia, Gallagher said.

"What we've shown is that very low doses of the atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam reduces this over-activity," Gallagher said. "At the same time, it improves memory performance on a task that depends on the hippocampus."

The team studied 84 subjects; 17 of them were normal healthy participants and the rest had the symptoms of pre-dementia memory loss defined as aMCI. Everyone was over 55 years old, with an average age of about 70.

The subjects were given varying doses of the drug and also a placebo in a double-blind randomized trial. Researchers found low doses both improved and normalized the over-activity detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging that measures brain activity during a memory task. The ideal dosing found in this clinical study matched earlier preclinical studies in animal models.

"What we want to discover now, is whether treatment over a longer time will prevent further and delay or stop progression to Alzheimer's dementia," Gallagher said.

Other team members from Johns Hopkins included Arnold Bakker, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences; Marilyn S. Albert, director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Neurology; professor of neurology Gregory Krauss and the clinical study coordinator, Caroline L. Speck.

Gallagher, the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, is the founder of, and a member of the scientific board of, AgeneBio, a biotechnology company focused on developing treatments for diseases that affect brain function. The company is headquartered in Baltimore.

Gallagher owns AgeneBio stock, which is subject to certain restrictions under Johns Hopkins policy. She is entitled to shares of any royalties received by the university on sales of products related to her inventorship of intellectual property. The terms of these arrangements are managed by the university in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policies.

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

More information: NeuroImage: Clinical, dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2015.02.009

Related Stories

Pumping iron could ward off dementia

February 16, 2015

High intensity weight training is important for brains not just brawn and could be prescribed in the fight against dementia according to new research from the University of Sydney.

Recommended for you

Plant reveals anti-Alzheimer's compounds

June 20, 2017

Japanese scientists have developed a method to isolate and identify active compounds in plant medicines, which accurately accounts for drug behavior in the body. Using the technique, they have identified several active compounds ...

Rate of Alzheimer's deaths on the rise

June 15, 2017

The rate of death from Alzheimer's disease in the United States increased by more than 50 percent in the past 15 years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2015
I have read and re-read the article. I cannot spot the name of the drug tested. Is the omission and oversight or should I take the drug?
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2015

"What we've shown is that very low doses of the atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam reduces this over-activity," Gallagher said

I think its also called Keppra.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2015
It concerns me that there is negligible research into metalloid enzymes such as Zinc, Copper & Molybdenum. Bodies has over 300 in all reliant on these three metals.

Any proteins that require these as cofactors don't seem to be researched, indeed they are complex but, their effects are immense. Just two copper based enzyme/proteins are essential for humans just to metabolise Iron ie. Cerruloplasmin & Ferroxidase. The effect is, that if these are low then when we get iron supplements their iron is not absorbed well and thus can be utilised by bacteria, especially pathogens, as most bacteria are adept at using iron as a catalyst for food production - whereas vast bulk of bacteria cannot stand copper !

An interesting juxtaposition.

not rated yet Mar 11, 2015
Even a recent POTUS succumbed to this illness; Too Bad, Science is So Slow!
Trickle Down OR Trickle Up or by whatever name you may call it....
A few years ago, a couple of Top Notch Scientists had their Genomes COMPLETELY Sequenced.
But in what way is it useful to them even after such a long time? Same thing will be of Immense use to them Right Away if ACCOMPANIED also with Such Data of, say, another Million Common Men!
People are buckling up to go to Mars and not showing any interest at all in their own health which is far more important to them.
not rated yet Mar 11, 2015
I have read and re-read the article. I cannot spot the name of the drug tested. Is the omission and oversight or should I take the drug?

@Patnclaire: the drug being tested is Levetiracetam

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.