A cheap, common medication for asthma has astonishing benefits in old rats – restoring memory and learning to a youthful level.
Everyone gets slower as they get older, and both learning ability and memory get progressively worse. Finding cheap substances that can reverse some of this decline has been a cornerstone in anti-aging research on the brain.
Asthma affects 235 million people worldwide, but is largely medicated effectively in most patients. One drug for the condition is montelukast (Singulair), which blocks receptors in the brain associated with inflammation – producing a calming effect on immune activity.
Promising side effects
A team has now found that montelukast has surprising and potent effects in rats, and may have similar benefits in humans too. When they tested a group of rats with the molecule, they found older rats memory skills were equivalent to young ones after a period of dosage.
“We’ve restored learning and memory 100 per cent, to a level comparable with youth”
The study was on a fairly small sample of animals, but the results are interesting enough to raise some eyebrows. We know montelukast interacts with receptors called leukotriene receptors – which cause a harmful, inflammatory response when activated. Areas of the brain that create new neurons (a process essential to memory formation) have abundant levels of these receptors and are very sensitive to their activation.
When montelukast is administered it blocks these receptors, and in animals suffering from age-related changes in these regions it appeared to reverse some of the ill effects of well, aging. Rats given the drug showed 80% less inflammation, a repaired blood-brain barrier, and new neuron growth. The neuron growth didn’t match the young group, but it was far improved upon older group with no dosing at all.
“The important thing is that while we saw effects on neurogenesis, we also saw effects on other systems in the brain. The drug reduces neural inflammation in the brain. But we also looked at that blood-brain barrier and that is partially restored. We know in aged brains that the blood-brain barrier is leaky and that contributes to neural inflammation.”
If it works, it could be fast tracked for treatment
While this study is new, the drug itself is already patented and readily available; it could simply be re-purposed in this case. This cuts through some of the need for lengthy, expensive clinical trials. The hope is that it’ll continue to show benefits in human patients, and provide relief to patients suffering neural decline.
“Neurodegenerative diseases are very complex, but what many people have done in last decade is focus on one particular mechanism to cure a disease. I don’t think that will ever work. If we have a drug that affects various different mechanisms then we might have a better chance”
Read more at The Guardian