Researchers from Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco found how levetiracetam -a drug prescribed for patients who suffer from epilepsy- suppresses abnormal brain activity and restores memory function in a mouse model.
Lennart Mucke from Gladstone conducted the research on mice genetically modified to simulate key aspects of Alzheimer's disease.
"For the millions of people suffering from Alzheimer's worldwide, we have no effective drug to prevent or reverse memory loss- the hallmark symptom of this ultimately fatal disease," said Mucke.
"This study builds on our earlier findings linking Alzheimer's and epilepsy. It provides new insights into the processes underlying memory loss in Alzheimer's and demonstrates the ability of an anti-epileptic drug to block these processes," Mucke said in a statement.
Healthy activity in neuronal networks is critical for essential brain functions such as memory. Alzheimer's wreaks havoc on these brain networks, causing disruptions that occasionally escalate into epileptic seizures.
"But whether such neuronal-network disruptions also impair memory was unknown," said Gladstone Postdoctoral Fellow Pascal Sanchez, who is the paper's lead author.
"So we screened seven FDA-approved anti-epileptic medications- including levetiracetam- in our Alzheimer's mouse model to see if minimising these network disruptions could improve memory," Sanchez said.
When the Gladstone scientists administered levetiracetam to the mice, they found that abnormal network activity in their brains dropped by 50 per cent in less than a day.
After two weeks of treatment, the neurons' ability to communicate with each other improved. The mice also showed better learning and memory in a maze test. Finally, the researchers observed that several proteins that are important for healthy brain function returned to normal levels.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.