Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have discovered how the predominant class of Alzheimer's pharmaceuticals might sharpen the brain's performance
One factor even more important than the size of a television screen is the quality of the signal it displays. Having a life-sized projection of Harry Potter dodging a Bludger in a Quidditch match is of little use if the details are lost to pixilation.
The importance of transmitting clear signals, however, is not relegated to the airwaves. The same creed applies to the electrical impulses navigating a human brain. Now, new research has shown that one of the few drugs approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease helps patients by clearing up the signals coming in from the outside world.The discovery was made by a team of researchers led by Rosalyn Moran, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Her study indicates that cholinesterase inhibitors -- a class of drugs that stop the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine -- allow signals to enter the brain with more precision and less background noise.
Alzheimer's disease affects more than 35 million people worldwide -- a number expected to double every 20 years, leading to more than 115 million cases by 2050. Of the five pharmaceuticals approved to treat the disease by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, four are cholinesterase inhibitors. Although it is clear that the drugs increase the amount of acetylcholine in the brain, why this improves Alzheimer's symptoms has been unknown. If scientists understood the mechanisms and pathways responsible for improvement, they might be able to tailor better drugs to combat the disease, which costs more than $200 billion annually in the United States alone.