Drug appears to beat back age-related brain cell changes, UCLA researchers find

If you're getting old and starting to lose your memory, write this down before you forget: There may be a pill to reverse the decline, researchers from the University of California-Los Angeles have found.

This tantalizing possibility is based on research using rats, though scientists say they hope to repeat the process in people, and eventually produce drugs that can boost cognition for older folks. Someday, researchers hope their findings could lead to a pill that reverses Alzheimer's disease and other aging-related neurodegenerative diseases.

Promising data aside, however, neuroscience treatments are tough to develop. Some larger companies such as Novartis ($NVS), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and AstraZeneca ($AZN) have been retreating from certain neuroscience-related drug-development efforts, FierceBiotech's John Carroll reported Dec. 6.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in forming and managing memories. In older folks and many animals, memory loss begins as synapses in that region and others start to deteriorate, the researchers note, possibly because of the decline in histone acetylation, a chemical process that controls synaptic plasticity. Consider also that hippocampal tissue in older rats has smaller amounts of brain-derived neurotropic factor, a protein that helps generate synaptic plasticity.

With those focal points in mind, the rest is pretty straightforward. Researchers used a drug that increased histone acetylation on hippocampal tissue from older rats, which restored production of brain-derived neurotropic factor to more youthful levels. That's not all, however. Scientists were also able to restore synaptic plasticity in older rats by using a separate drug that activates a brain-derived neurotropic factor receptor.

Details are published in the Dec. 7 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The National Institute on Aging and UCLA Older Americans Independence Center funded the research. Researchers at Yale and elsewhere reported this year that they generated similar data using a different drug on monkeys, in a LiveScience story carried by MSNBC online.

- here's the release
- check out the MSNBC/LiveScience story

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