New Drug Rejuvenates Rat Brains

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Children’s fairy tales recount the pursuit of rejuvenated youth. Historical journeys pursuing the rumored Fountain of Youth have been well documented. There has always been a fascination with reversing the effects of aging. When caring for your aging loved one, you are forced to painfully watch as the aging process takes effect and sometimes causes further complications. While the hands of time won’t turn back and make anyone young again, there is promising evidence of an anti-asthmatic prescription medication that slows down the cognitive aging process and actually rejuvenates the brain.

The results were so encouraging that scientists and researchers are ready to begin control trials to test the drug’s effects on elderly human brain function.

Anti-asthmatic Drug: the Anti-Aging Drug?

Montelukast is the anti-asthmatic medication that has been studied in lab rats to determine its efficacy in improving cognitive functioning in older rats. The potentially dual-purposed medication has been successful in reducing the inflammatory responses brought about by asthma. Elevated levels of inflammation-causing agents are found in both asthmatic and elderly people. The simply put thought is that Montelukast can selectively reduce the inflammation that causes a chain reaction of degradation in cognitive brain functioning, such as:

  • Reduced synaptic densities – think decreased brain activity and more “dropped calls”
  • Blood brain barrier leaks – think inflammation
  • Microglia dysfunction – less protection and repairing of the brain
  • Decrease in presynaptic terminals – problems translating the messages
  • Decreased neurogenesis, or rather a decrease in the growth of new healthy neurons

The results were so encouraging that scientists and researchers are ready to begin control trials to test the drug’s effects on elderly human brain function.

Reversing the Rate of Cognitive Aging

 As we age, our cognitive processing slows down. Our memory is challenged, and neurons are actually damaged in the course of inflammation development that is naturally occurring as we age. Part of the cause for this increase in inflammation is due to leaks that form in the blood-brain barrier. It is harder to replenish the neurons at the rate our youthful brains once did.

The rats that were tested using the anti-asthmatic drug, Montelukast, showed that the drug was able to reduce the symptoms associated with aging, memory loss, and spatial reasoning. For one portion of the test, young rats and old rats were put in a water maze with the goal of finding a platform. The young rats found the platform much more quickly than the old rats.

The old rats were then given five days’ worth of Montelukast. The water maze test was repeated at the end of the five days and the platform’s location was moved. The results were that older rats treated with the medication performed at the same rate of success as the young rats in locating where the removed platform should be and where it was moved to.

Increase in Neural Production

The brain is a highly complex and not very well understood part of human anatomy. What scientists do know is that neurons play the most architecturally vital role. Neurons are responsible for the communications necessary to carry out practically every function of our existence. Neurons are electrically charged cells that transfer messages of information using electrical impulses and chemical signals. They are found in every part of the brain, and for this particular experiment, the hippocampus was studied the most because of its role in memory and spatial navigation – where the body and other objects are in relation to space.

What scientists found was that Montelukast actually caused a neurogenesis in the hippocampus of older rats, improving their memory and spatial reasoning skills by a regrowth of healthy neurons. Neurons naturally die as we age or they do abnormally as a result of brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s. As they die, those communication signals become weaker and less frequent, causing many of the symptoms we see associated with the elderly and infirm.

As technology improves and greater understanding evolves, we may begin to see new medications such as Montelukast that will help reverse some of the effects that are so hard to watch in those we love and care for.

 

Sources

MacDonald, Fiona. (2015). Asthma Drug Appears to Rejuvenate Elderly Brains, Rodent Study Finds. Science Alert. Available at http://www.sciencealert.com/asthma-drug-appears-to-rejuvenate-elderly-brains-a-study-in-rats-has-found. Last Visited January 14, 2016.

Marscallinger, J., Schaffner, I., Klein, B., Gelfert, R., Rivera, F. J., et al. (2015). Structural and Functional Rejuvenation of Aged Brain by an Approved Anti-asthmatic Drug. Nature Communications, 6. Available at http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2015/151027/ncomms9466/full/ncomms9466.html. Last Visited January 14, 2016.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The Life and Death of a Neuron. National Institutes of Health. Available at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/brain_basics/ninds_neuron.htm. Last Visited January 15, 2016.

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