Researchers Sanchez et al. from the Gladstone Institute, University of California San Francisco and Washington University School of Medicine discovered that an FDA-approved anti-convulsant medication used to treat epilepsy (levetiracetam) can also reverse memory loss in addition to reducing other Alzheimer’s related symptoms in a mouse model of the disease.
Alzheimer’s is currently the most common form of dementia (memory loss) representing 50-80% of cases. It is a disease that worsens over time. Although there are available medications to help slow the progression of the disease or lessen the symptoms, there is currently no cure. Presently, an estimated 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s disease in the United States and this number is expected to rise.
When administered to mice with Alzheimer’s, levetiracetam was found to decrease abnormal signaling in the brain by 50% in just one day. By 2 weeks, neurons within the brain exhibited signs of improved communication. Using a maze test, the researchers were able to demonstrate improved learning and memory with the anti-convulsant medication. Moreover, proteins necessary for normal brain function were restored to normal levels in the treated animals.
More research is needed however, to determine whether this new use of levetiracetam in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is effective and safe for humans. Although a recent trial showed that it could improve memory and brain function in patients with mild cognitive impairments:
Sanchez PE, Zhua L, Verreta L, Vossela KA, Orra AG, Cirritoc JR, Devidzea N, Ho K, Yua G-Q, Palopa JJ, and Mucke L. Levetiracetam suppresses neuronal network dysfunction and reverses synaptic and cognitive deficits in an Alzheimer’s disease model. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1121081109