Blocking Formation of Toxic Compounds

Most of the existing therapies, and those in research development, focus on stimulating natural promemory factors—the good guys—in the brain, or by blocking destruction of the good guys (e.g., cholinesterase inhibitors). But what about the opposite strategy: blocking the bad guys—the toxic enzymes, the destructive genes and neurotransmitters that trigger and mediate cell death? Antioxidants represent one such approach. But in recent years, the focus has shifted to more sophisticated techniques that attempt to block the formation of deposits in the brain that damage nerve cells. These deposits, which are called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, typically occur in Alzheimer's disease. The same plaques are present, though to a much lesser extent, in elderly people with age-related memory loss. So the question naturally arises: what if we could block the formation of plaques and tangles in the first place?

Preventing Amyloid Formation

Many drug companies are now in hot pursuit of compounds (Beta-block is the name of one such drug in development) that can block the enzymes that trigger the formation of Beta-amyloid, which is the main protein component of the amyloid plaque. Recently, an experimental vaccine has also been developed for this purpose. Many of these compounds are toxic, and we are still a long way from translating these concepts into a clinically useful treatment. But if it does occur, millions of patients and families with dementia, particularly Alzheimer's disease, will be eternally grateful.

Blocking Neurotransmitters

There may be ways to either block the formation or increase the destruction of other naturally occurring toxic chemicals and neurotransmitters, which include nitric oxide, n-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA), and glutamate. Studies with glutamate antagonists have been unsuccessful in clinical trials of patients with dementia, and fiddling with NMDA receptor function can be dangerous because of the risk of seizures. Part of the problem is that we currently do not have a complete understanding of how exactly these chemicals and neurotransmitters work in the brain, and what impact they have on memory processes. As research evolves, compounds that can better target the right neurotransmitter sites within the brain will be developed.

Unraveling Alzheimers Disease

Unraveling Alzheimers Disease

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