Researchers at Washington State University have discovered a a potential new drug candidate for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. Using rats with Alzheimer’s-like mental impairment, the team showed they could restore neural connections in damaged areas of the brain. Their research is published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
The study focused on a peptide called Angiotensin IV. Joe Harding, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Professor and Jay Wright, WSU College of Arts and Sciences Professor have been working on their compound since 1992. It was then they noticed the effect Angiotensin IV had on the hippocampus which is the area of the brain responsible for short term memory. Angiotensins were previously thought of as mostly useful for hypertension control. One problem the team ran into early on was that these peptide’s effectiveness were severely diminished by digestion and were also prevented from entering the brain through the blood barrier. The blood-brain barrier serves to protect the brain and prevent many drugs and other molecules from entering the brain.
Fortunately, their work continued and five years ago they developed a compound called Dihexa. This compound not only passed through the gut, but made it past the blood-brain barrier as well. This was a significant achievement because now they could develop something in the form of a pill.
To test the pill, they used rats who were given scopolamine, a chemical that interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain. Under the influence of scopolamine, the rats would never learn the location of a submerged platform in a water tank. However, when given Dihexa, whether directly to the brain, through an injection, or orally, the rats all learned again. ”We quickly found out that this molecule was absolutely, insanely active,” says Harding.
This study truly sets Dihexa apart from any other Alzheimer’s treatment on the market. Current drugs only serve to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s on the brain. Dihexa actually repairs neural connections. This could have a big impact on future treatment of Alzheimer’s patients in the future, as well as other neurodegenerative diseases.