Antidepressants May Prevent or Slow Onset of Alzheimer's Disease
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University School of Medicine report that the commonly used antidepressant drug citalopram reduces the production of amyloid beta. Amyloid beta is a protein that contributes to the production of plaques in the brain. Amyloid beta clusters in plaques alongside the tau protein, are thought to trigger Alzheimer's disease.
Plaques and tangles lead to brain cell death and deplete levels of chemicals needed to transmit messages within the brain causing memory problems and cognitive impairment. Cognitive impaiment is the term used to describe problems with cognitive functions such as difficulties with day to day memory, language, attention and executive functions such as planning.
Published May 14 in Science Translational Medicine, researchers looked at 23 healthy people aged between 18 and 50 years and transgenic mice bred with Alzheimer’s disease over a two year period.
They found that after giving the mice citalopram, the level of amyloid beta fell by 25%, compared to the control group, with no antidepressant. The growth of new plaques was reduced after two months of antdepressants and existing plaques did not grow any further. They also found that existing plaques did not shrink or decrease in number.
The human subjects were given just one dose of citalopram. Levels of amyloid beta in their cerebrospinal fluid was monitored and levels dropped by 38% in the 37-hour period after treatment compared to a placebo tests.
But do not rush out to get the drug just yet. The study group was very small, it comprised of young people and the research did not include people with Alzheimer’s disease. The study also used transgenic mice which are not always a totally reliable model of what might happen in humans.
However the research is interesting according to scientists that work in this area. Because it uses drugs already approved, albeit in other areas of medicine , it does cut down on the time for approval for use in Alzheimer’s significantly if it is found to work in larger studies. These results may mean that an antidepressant drug may help prevent, or at least slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in future treatment for this debilitating disease.