Anti-epilepsy drug shows potential in mild Alzheimer’s disease

A drug used to prevent epileptic seizures, levetiracetam, shows positive impact on the brain activity of patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease, researches reported on June 23, 2017 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

As background, the authors noted that seizure-like activity in the brain has previously been linked to some of the cognitive decline seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and this activity is measurable by electroencephalogram (EEG) or other brain scan technology.

“In the field of Alzheimer’s disease research, there has been a major search for drugs to slow its progression. If this abnormal electrical activity is leading to more damage, then suppressing it could potentially slow the progression of the disease,” said Daniel Press, MD, of the Berenson-Allen Center for Non-invasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.

In this double-blind study, the investigators evaluated data on  seven subjects with mild Alzheimer’s who completed a baseline (EEG) to measure the electrical activity in the brain and who subsequently received (in a randomized and blinded way)  injections of  a  placebo or of levetiracetam, at either a low dose (2.5 mg/kg) or a higher dose (7.5 mg/kg).

After treatment with levetiracetam or placebo, subjects had another EEG, followed by a standardized cognitive test, designed to measure cognitive functions affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

For the seven completers of the study, the researchers analyzed data for changes in EEGs. They found that higher doses of  levetiracetam appeared to normalize  EEG profiles. They reported overall increases in brain wave frequencies that had been abnormally low in the subjects before receiving the higher dose of levetiracetam, and also reported decreases following treatment in wave frequencies which had been abnormally high.

“It’s worth noting, we did not demonstrate any improvement in cognitive function after a single dose of medication in this study,” said Press.

He added, “It’s too early to use the drug widely, but we’re preparing for a larger, longer study. These strategies have not led to new therapies to date. There have been a lot of disappointments. So our findings represent an interesting new avenue.”