Could Arthritis Drugs Affect Alzheimer’s?

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerNovember 2, 2015

A new study from the Gladstone Institute in California found that a commonly prescribed medication for arthritis was able to lower levels of tau build up associated with Alzheimer’s, protect the hippocampus from damage and improve memory in mice.

Learn more about this study and why researchers are optimistic the drug will have similarly positive results for humans.

Common Arthritis Drug May Affect Alzheimer’s

A new study from the Gladstone Institute in California, published in Nature Medicine found that salsalate, a drug commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lowered levels of tau protein in the brain, improved memory and prevented damage of the hippocampus. The accumulation of tau in the brain is a hallmark characteristic of people with Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia, while the hippocampus is a region of the brain responsible for memory formation and is negatively impacted by dementia. 

Researchers gave mice with dementia and healthy mice either salsalate or a placebo daily and then assessed brain volume. Mice were also given behavioral tests to evaluate spatial learning and memory retention. Researchers concluded that salsalate prevented the build up of tau, breaking down the protein. They also found that mice with dementia taking salsalate had no further reduction in brain volume and improved memory retention.  

Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society, Dr. Doug Brown, is encouraged by the study, saying:

“Repurposing existing treatments for other conditions offers real hope of delivering a new dementia treatment within 5-10 years, which is why Alzheimer’s Society is currently funding a number of studies in this area, including a treatment for type 2 diabetes and another drug for arthritis.”

Promising Results Call for More Research

While the results of the new study are promising, showing decreased tau build-up, improved memory and halted shrinking of the hippocampus in mice, it remains to be seen if the drug will work the same way for humans.

Additionally, while salsalate is commonly prescribed and we do know how the drug works and its side effects, we do not know what dose of salsalate is needed to fight dementia in humans, which could alter side effects of the medication.

Dr. Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society remains optimistic, stating:

“It’s promising news that the arthritis drug salsalate could potentially reduce the accumulation of one of the toxic proteins that characterizes both Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia. None of the current dementia treatments target the specific protein, tau, which creates tangles in the brain that gradually destroy healthy nerve cells. While scientists are still not absolutely sure what causes Alzheimer’s or frontotemporal dementia, the hope is that this type of treatment could be one way of slowing down the progression of the disease.”

What do you think about repurposing existing drugs to fight Alzheimer’s? Is it a viable treatment method? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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