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Second Study Suggests Life-Extending Drug May Be Effective in Alzheimer’s

A second study, in a different mouse model, has shown that the pharmacological agent rapamycin, which has previously been shown to extend life span in mice, may prevent Alzheimer’s disease in humans. A bacterial product first isolated from the soil on Easter Island, rapamycin is already approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. The first of the two Alzheimer’s studies, was published online on February 23, 2010 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (A. Caccamo et al.), and showed that rapamycin curbed the effects of Alzheimer’s in one mouse model. The new study, published on April 1 in PLoS ONE, showed similar effects in a completely different mouse model of Alzheimer’s. Both reports came from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and collaborating institutions. The second report showed that administration of rapamycin improved learning and memory in a strain of mice engineered to develop Alzheimer's. The improvements in learning and memory were detected in a water maze activity test that is designed to measure learning and spatial memory. The improvements in learning and memory correlated with lower damage in brain tissue. "Rapamycin treatment lowered levels of amyloid-beta-42, a major toxic species of molecules in Alzheimer's disease," said senior author Dr. Veronica Galvan. "These molecules, which stick to each other, are suspected to play a key role in the early memory failure of Alzheimer's."

"Strikingly, the Alzheimer's mice treated with rapamycin displayed improved performance on the maze, even reaching levels that were indistinguishable from their normal littermates," Dr. Galvan said. "Levels of amyloid-beta-42 were also reduced in these mice after treatment, and we are seeing preserved numbers of synaptic elements in the brain areas of Alzheimer's disease mice that are ravaged by the disease process."

"The fact that we are seeing identical results in two vastly different mouse models of Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Galvan added, in reference to the recent JBC study, "provides robust evidence that rapamycin treatment is effective and is acting by changing a basic pathogenic process of Alzheimer's that is common to both mouse models. This suggests that it may be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's in humans, who also have very diverse genetic makeup and life histories." [Press release] [JBC abstract] [PLoS ONE article]