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Experimental drug is able to reverse the genetic changes that may cause Alzheimer’s

It’s well known that ageing affects our brain in a negative way, with the hippocampus being particularly vulnerable to changes that can lead to cognitive decline. Now researchers from the Rockefeller University have found a drug that can have an effect on this circuitry and possibly reverse the key genetic changes that affect the brain.

As we age, an excess of glutamate can accumulate between the neurons of the brain and damage the circuitry, contributing to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders. The research team, led by Ana Pereira, discovered that a drug called riluzole has the ability to reverse the changes that can lead to cognitive decline, in rat models of Alzheimer’s. The most significant change being that the release of molecules for clearing away this excess of glutamate returned to levels normally associated with youth, and it was also able to reverse many of the changes to the hippocampus that begin in middle age.

Pereira has previously carried out research to show that riluzole can start structural changes in rats’ neurons, which are able to prevent the memory loss often observed in old rats. Through their research the team have found that riluzole is able to modify the activity of certain genes in aged rats to resemble those of younger animals. This means that it has the potential to stop memory loss and cognitive decline, thus making it suitable as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. It’s already known that riluzole is safe, as it’s currently used to treat other neurological diseases.

The drug is being tested in clinical trials

Now Pereira is testing the drug with Alzheimer’s patients in a clinical trial at the hospital, and have already observed similar changes in these patients. In the trial, patients have received either riluzole or a placebo, and are regularly tested to determine whether there’s been an improvement in their brain function.

The team hoped that they could develop a medication that will be able to stop glutamate from damaging the neurons, and so far their results suggest that riluzole may be able to do this. Not only does it stop the formation of excess glutamate, but it restores genes that play a critical role in neural communication and plasticity, both of which decline as we age and play a part in the development of Alzheimer’s.

The research was published in a recent edition of Molecular Psychiatry.

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