March 15, 2012 — A recent study shows that a new drug, called epothilone D (EpoD) is preventing neurological damage and improving cognitive performance in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Investigators from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania administered EpoD to aged mice that had memory deficits and inclusions within their brains that resemble the tangles caused by tau protein that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.  Normally, tau proteins stabilize structures called microtubules.  These structures are like molecular railroad tracks that transports cellular cargo.  When tangles develop, the ability of the microtubules to transport information is compromised, and this leads to damage to the nerve cells. 

EpoD stabilizes the microtubules in the same way as the FDA-approved cancer drug paclitaxel (Taxol™).  Both of these drugs prevent cancer cells from multiplying by over-stabilizing specialized microtubules responsible for separating chromosomes during cell division.  The advantage of EpoD is that it, unlike paciltaxel, easily enters the brain and it stays there longer than it stays in the blood.  As a result, researchers suspect that low doses of EpoD might have a therapeutic benefit in early-stage Alheimer’s patients.

After three months of receiving EpoD, additional tau clumps (or tangles) did not form in the test mice, and nerve-cell function increased compared to the AD mice that did not receive the drug.  The test mice also showed improvements in learning and memory.

Because EpoD was so readily absorbed by the brain, lower doses that produced no side-effects, were found to be effective.  This is particularly significant as other drugs in this class have been shown to suppress the immune system and cause peripheral nerve damage.

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