Helping the brain’s ‘waste disposal’

From the spring 2016 edition of Care and cure magazine, a new study shows that a drug originally developed as an antidepressant may work to enhance the brain's 'waste disposal' and slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease.

Research in mice has shown that proteasomes, the cell's waste disposal system, may break down during Alzheimer's disease. The protein tau, which accumulates in the brain in the disease, is thought to clog the system, creating a cycle in which increased levels of damaged proteins become toxic, clog proteasomes and kill more neurons.

The study tested the drug rolipram, which enhanced proteasome activity in mice with the early signs of Alzheimer's disease. It is hoped that this may prevent dementia and reduce damage to the brain.

Rolipram, initially developed as an antidepressant, is not used clinically because it causes nausea as a side effect. Similar drugs have been tested previously for their benefits in helping the brain to create memories, but this discovery demonstrates a new way in which rolipram might help people with dementia.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Society, said, 'This study in mice appears to show that the drug rolipram - which was first developed to treat depression - can restart the waste disposal system in brain cells and flush out the toxic clumps. This prevented memory problems in the mice studied, but only in those that showed signs of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

'This discovery suggests a new way in which people with dementia could be helped, but it is still very early stages and there are many hurdles to overcome before we know if it's effective in people.'