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Early trials of Alzheimer drug positive.

Early trials of Alzheimer drug positive

Initial tests of a drug that prevents the breakdown of a neurotransmitter indicate that it may help alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. But the treatment, described in the Nov. 13 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, is far from a cure.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles and several other institutions gave tetrahydroaminoacridine (THA) to patients with "moderate to severe" Alzheimer's disease, diagnosed by psychological and biochemical testing as well as by magnetic resonance imaging. THA inhibits the action of an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is deficient in Alzheimer's patients. It also may block potassium channels in neurons, stimulating the release of acetylcholine and improving the action of the neurons.

The cognitive functioning and general orientation of 14 patients alternately given oral THA or placebo improved while they were on the drug, the researchers found. And all 12 of these patients who have continued to get the drug for an average of about a year are doing well. The results suggest, the researchers note, "that THA may be at least temporarily useful in the long-term palliative treatment of patients with Alzheimer's disease."

Further testing will be needed before the treatment can be fully evaluated, the researchers caution, and their concerns are echoed in an accompanying editorial. Kenneth L. Davis of Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City, one of the authors of the editorial, told SCIENCE NEWS that other laboratories, including his own, have had some success with drug treatments aimed at maintaining the level of acetylcholine.

But keeping acetylcholine levels up does not address the underlying loss of acetylcholine-producing neurons in the brain. In addition, he says, other neurotransmitters besides acetylcholine become deficient in Alzheimer's patients, making anything that depends entirely on reconstituting the acetylcholine system "a flawed strategy."

"We don't know what effect THA will have on the progression of Alzheimer's," Davis says. "But a conservative assumption would be it will not influence the ultimate course of the disease."
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Title Annotation:tetrahydroaminoacridine
Author:Silberner, HJoanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 15, 1986
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