Antidepressant May Help Alzheimer Patients


A widely used antidepressant can help slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, according to University of Pennsylvania researchers. The study found that the Citalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) sold as Celexa and Cipramil, arrests the growth of beta-amyloid protein in the brain.

In Alzheimer’s disease, the patients’ memory, thinking, and behavior are affected. Plaques and tangles are believed to be the two prime abnormal structures that damage and kill nerve cells. Beta-amyloid get deposited in the spaces between nerve cells, forming plaques. On the other hand, tangles, twisted fibers of a protein called “tau,” accumulate inside cells.

University of Pennsylvania researchers found that in both mice and human subjects Citalopram increases the level of serotonin–a neurotransmitter that aids in maintaining mental balance–reducing the level of the protein in the brain.

Previous studies of the researchers at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine have already shown a link between antidepressants and the reduction in amyloid level in the brain, confirmed Yvette Sheline, MD, professor of Psychiatry, Radiology and Neurology. Those studies examined amyloid levels shown in positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brains of elderly subjects for different durations of the antidepressant use. The new study took this research a step further and tested the effect of Citalopram on the cerebrospinal fluid amyloid levels in the brains of younger, healthy subjects.

In the latest study, researchers used mice with Alzheimer’s disease as the test subjects. The mice were then given Citalopram antidepressant. The team found a significant drop in amyloid beta level of mice that were given the drug. Even after two months they observed no fresh formation of the protein cluster in the mice under test. In another double-blind study, researchers chose 23 healthy human subjects aged 18 to 50 years and gave them 60mg of Citalopram. They observed that the subjects under drug had a 38 percent lower A-beta concentration than placebos.

The study findings are interesting, especially because an approved antidepressant drug can be used to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease in millions of people the world over. However, Dr. James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, cautions that the study was limited to a small sample size and that the drug was tested on human subjects only up to 50 years of age.

The National Institute of Health, Washington University Hope Center for Neurological Diseases, and Washington University Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Resource jointly funded the study. The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Currently, Alzheimer’s patients have to rely on five FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs. Unfortunately, these drugs treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and not the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s. They temporarily improve memory and thinking in about half of the people who take them–reports, website of Alzheimer’s Association. On the other hand, many of the new drugs in development are focused on modifying the disease process itself. Though the researchers have been able to show that Citalopram may help Alzheimer’s patients, there are also concerns over side effects of the antidepressant.

By Uma Bansal

Alzheimer’s Association
University of Pennsylvania Health System
Los Angeles Times

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