Scientists in Canada have found that a cholesterol-lowering drug called simvastatin could improve blood vessel function and improve learning and memory in mice showing features of Alzheimer’s disease when given early in the disease process. The findings are published on 4 April in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The scientists used simvastatin to treat mice bred to develop characteristic features of Alzheimer’s. Blood vessels in the brain of these mice typically don’t work as well as normal and are less responsive to their environment, and the mice show problems with learning and memory tasks.
The study found that daily doses of simvastatin for three or six months improved the function of blood vessels in the brains of the mice and enhanced blood flow to more active areas of the brain. Adult mice treated with simvastatin also showed improvements on learning and memory tasks compared to untreated mice, however this benefit was not seen in older mice with more advanced disease.
In adult mice, simvastatin was shown to increase the levels of two proteins c-Fos and Egr-1, known to play a role in learning and memory. The same increases were not seen in older mice treated with simvastatin, leading the researchers to conclude that the drug will only show its greatest benefits when given early in the disease process.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Overall evidence suggests that statins like simvastatin do not benefit people with dementia, but this new mouse study suggests that the timing of treatment could be vital. Many experts believe that treatments for dementia will be most beneficial if given very early in the disease process.
“While these new findings are valuable, the benefits are shown in mice and we don’t know how they will bear out in humans. There is a real need to push on with research that will boost early detection and help people with dementia get more benefit from treatments. As society prepares itself to tackle its greatest medical challenge, research into dementia remains our only long term hope for defeating it.”
Sourced from Alzheimer's Research UK, 4th April 2012.