According to the World Health Organization, approximately 47 million adults around the world live with some form of dementia. By the year 2030, that number is expected to nearly double. In two more decades, the number almost triples. Up until now, modern medicine had little to offer in the way of treatment. However recently, scientists from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine from Temple University may have discovered hope.
Alzheimer’s and some types of dementia develop when an abundance of tau proteins accumulate in the brain. The proteins stick together and tangle neurons, which inhibits chemical transmission and communication between the cells. The damage and destruction caused by the tau proteins lead to cognitive impairment. However, the Temple University researchers also found that molecules known as leukotrienes also contribute to neuron damage.
Leukotrienes are released by certain types of immature white cells and play a role in the immune system. The molecules are released when allergic reactions and asthma occur. During the early stages of dementia, leukotrienes are released and attempt to protect the neurons from further damage. However, as the number of leukotrienes increases, inflammation also damages the cells.
Uncovering the leukotriene factor led the scientists to wonder what effect interfering with the molecules might have on neuron tangles and cell damage. For the study, the scientists used laboratory mice bred to develop tau protein tangles in their brains. By the time the animals reached one year of age, the cognitive impairment they exhibited was similar to that of elderly adults having dementia.
The researchers treated the affected mice with a medication known as zileuton. Physicians prescribe zileuton to prevent asthma attacks in susceptible patients. The formula blocks an enzyme known as 5-lipoxygenase. In this way, leukotrienes are not formed and inflammation does not occur. Before receiving treatment, the mice were sent through a maze to evaluate their level of cognitive malfunction.
Half of the animals were given zileuton for four months. At the end of the period, all of the mice were exposed to the maze again. The treated mice performed significantly better, which led the scientists to believe that the medication successfully restored their memory. The leukotriene levels in all of the mice were then evaluated.
The treated mice demonstrated a 90 percent reduction of inflammation, leukotrienes and tau proteins. The neurons were also intact along with their synaptic pathways. The medication reversed the biological effects that caused dementia. The group hopes to soon evaluate the effects of the medication on human subjects.