A drug commonly used to treat epilepsy has shown promise in restoring brain function and reversing memory loss in early Alzheimer's disease.
The findings suggest the drug — levetiracetam — could offer a new therapeutic approach for elderly patients who are at high risk for dementia due to early-onset Alzheimer's disease, said Johns Hopkins University researchers who conducted the study.
The drug calms hyperactivity in the brain of patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) — a condition in which memory impairment is greater than expected for a person's age that flags people at risk for Alzheimer's dementia.
The findings, published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical, confirm the conclusions of an earlier Johns Hopkins study involving laboratory animals.
Lead researcher Michela Gallagher explained that over-activity in certain regions of the brain is common in people with aMCI.
"What we've shown is that very low doses of the atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam reduces this over-activity," Gallagher said, whose team assessed the drug’s effectiveness in 84 patients. "At the same time, it improves memory performance on a task that depends on the hippocampus."
Researchers found low doses of the drug improved memory performance and normalized the over-activity detected by brain scans during a memory task.
"What we want to discover now, is whether treatment over a longer time will prevent further cognitive decline and delay or stop progression to Alzheimer's dementia," Gallagher said.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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