Lithium a medication used for the treatment of bipolar disorder and major depression, when administered in low doses could stop advanced signs of Alzheimer’s, according to a new study.
Alzheimer’s disease is the primary cause of age-related dementia worldwide. This neurodegenerative disorder is usually characterized by memory problems. Other brain functions are then affected and little by little daily tasks become increasingly difficult and adapting to new situations almost impossible.
Despite frequent studies on this subject, no researcher has yet succeeded in developing a treatment that can cure this ailment. For some years now, scientists have been discussing the use of lithium, an alkaline metal used to treat bipolar disorder. The research on the subject has always used different settings and doses, making the results difficult to compare. Furthermore, lithium has caused serious side effects in each experiment performed, making it difficult to predict in long-term treatments, especially for seniors.
Nevertheless, in a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists observed that when lithium was administered in a formulation that would facilitate passage to the brain at doses up to 400 times lower than those currently prescribed for mood disorders, could stop the advanced signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) first studied the conventional lithium formulation and applied it to rats at doses similar to those used to treat mood disorders. Unfortunately, the animals showed many undesirable side effects. The researchers then decided to administer a new formulation of lithium to rats with Huntington’s disease, a rare and hereditary disease that results in neurological degeneration causing severe motor, cognitive and psychiatric disorders. This time they saw positive effects on the animals.
Possible immediate therapeutic applications
Based on these results, they then applied the new lithium formulation to Alzheimer’s-like transgenic rat expressing mutated human proteins to cause Alzheimer’s disease. Lithium microdoses at concentrations hundreds of times lower than the clinically applied concentrations for mood disorders were administered in the early stages of amyloid pathology in Alzheimer’s-type transgenic mice, explains Dr. Claudio Cuello, from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and co-author of the study.
The researchers then proposed applying the same formulation to later stages of the disease in their transgenic rat, modeling the neuropathological aspects of Alzheimer’s disease. They discovered that the beneficial effects can be obtained even in the later stages of the disease.
“From a practical point of view our findings show that microdoses of lithium in formulations such as the one we used, which facilitates passage to the brain through the brain-blood barrier while minimizing levels of lithium in the blood, sparing individuals from adverse effects, should find immediate therapeutic applications,” says Dr. Cuello.
Tangible benefits in the early preclinical phase
According to Dr. Cuello, while it is unlikely that a drug can totally reverse brain damage already present at the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, it is highly likely that micro-dosing treatment with encapsulated lithium will have tangible benefits in the early preclinical stages of the disease.
Today, Claudio Cuello wants to explore therapies using this lithium formulation with other drug candidates. He also wants to begin the first clinical trials of this formulation on people with demonstrable preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, such as patients with Down’s syndrome.
This is a glimmer of hope for the 50 million people worldwide suffering from this disease and their families, especially as this good news comes a few weeks after other U.S. researchers announced that they are developing a vaccine to eliminate brain plaque and tau protein aggregates. The latter is considered to be the first cause of neurodegenerative changes in the brain leading to cognitive impairment, followed by Alzheimer’s disease. According to the article published in Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, the results obtained with rats are very interesting.