Cognitive enhancement therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. The way forward.

Parnetti L, Senin U, Mecocci P.

Perugia University, Italy.
Drugs 1997 May;53(5):752-68


Although at present there is no definitive treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s disease, different pharmacological strategies are being actively investigated. At present, cholinergic therapy and nootropics and some neuronotrophic agents represent the available approaches to symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The use of cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEI) constitutes the best cholinergic approach to increase acetylcholine levels. Available data suggest that about 15 to 40% of Alzheimer’s disease patients show a varying degree of cognitive improvement while taking these medications; however, haematological complications (neutropenia or agranulocytosis), together with hepatotoxicity, need to be considered carefully. Recent data suggest that long term administration of nootropics may lead to a significant improvement of cognitive functions in Alzheimer’s disease patients compared with untreated individuals, having excellent tolerability. Protocols for the intracerebroventricular administration of neuronotrophic substances are also ongoing. The most promising approaches for the future currently undergoing investigation involve attempts to slow the production of beta-amyloid and/or to inhibit beta-amyloid aggregation. Another rational therapeutic approach would be to inhibit the formation of paired helical filaments (PHF) by increasing and/or modulating the activities of protein phosphatases and kinases. Antioxidant therapy should disrupt or prevent the free radical/beta-amyloid recirculating cascade and the progressive neurodegeneration. Idebenone, a synthetic compound acting as an ‘electron trapper’ and free radical scavenger, has shown some efficacy in degenerative and vascular dementia; at present, other different molecules having antioxidative properties [lazaroids (21-aminosteroids), pyrrolopyrimidines, nitric oxide blockers, selegiline, some vitamins] are under investigation. Lowering absorption or brain tissue concentrations of aluminium also offers possible therapeutic opportunities for slowing the rate of clinical progression of the disease; in this sense, some evidence exists using the aluminium chelating agent deferoxamine (desferrioxamine). Inflammation also may play a significant pathogenetic role in Alzheimer’s disease. As shown by several retrospective analyses, there is an inverse association of anti-inflammatory drug use with the frequency of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. Consequently, clinical trials using both nonsteroidal and steroidal molecules have been proposed. These lines of pharmacological intervention represent an important premise for future therapeutic strategies capable of counteracting the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.