Epilepsy Drug to Treat Alzheimer's Disease Progression

An antiepileptic drug proved to be efficacious in treating the progression of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Elderly patients with risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may be able to utilize a novel therapeutic approach from an existing drug to reverse symptoms, according to research published in NeuroImage: Clinical.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University tested a commonly used epilepsy drug in order to examine its effects on calming hyperactivity in the brain of patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). aMCI is a clinical condition in which memory impairment is greater than expected for a person’s age, a university press release explained, and where the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is greatly increased.

The investigators examined 84 patients, of which 17 were healthy participants and the rest demonstrated symptoms of pre-dementia memory loss defined as aMCI. Each patient was older than 55 years and the average age was about 70 years. The participants were administered varying doses of the antiepileptic drug or a placebo in a double-blind randomized trial.

The researchers observed low doses of the antiepileptic drug improved memory performance and normalized the over activity of the hippocampus, which was measured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The MRI was used to measure brain activity during memory task exhibitions.

“What we’ve shown is that very low doses of the atypical antiepileptic levetiracetam reduces this over activity,” explained lead investigator Michela Gallagher, PhD, in the statement. “At the same time, it improves memory performance on a task that depends on the hippocampus.”

Gallagher noted that the over activity in the hippocampus is well documented in patients with aMCI — the over abundance of activity often predicts cognitive decline and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“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 continued.

The current study was based off research completed by a Johns Hopkins team three years ago, published in Neuron, the authors said. The Neuron study examined animal models of aMCI and found similar results. In the animal tests, the most effective dosing was low, and similar to the current study on the human participants.