TUESDAY, June 30, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Treatment with a cholesterol-lowering drug might protect against Alzheimer's disease, new research suggests.
Scientists have long known that nerve cells in people with Alzheimer's die prematurely because they are strongly overstimulated, a process called excitotoxicity.
Theorizing that the cholesterol drug lovastatin might ward off cell death, researchers at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, conducted animal experiments in which they administered lovastatin (Altoprev, Mevacor) to overstimulated nerve cells. Lovastatin is a first-generation member of a class of drugs, statins, that has revolutionized the treatment of high cholesterol.
Lovastatin did indeed prevent cell death and, just as important, blocked the loss of memory that accompanies excitotoxicity, according to the lead scientist on the project, Amalia Dolga. Earlier, Dolga had shown that statins seem to stimulate the protective capacity of tumor necrosis factor, a key player in the brain's immune response. In addition, some researchers have speculated that high cholesterol might be a risk factor for Alzheimer's, suggesting that lowering cholesterol could be beneficial.
The findings are in the June issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
Alzheimer's disease affects more than 5 million people in the United States. The degenerative disease attacks brain cells and ruins memory and thinking. It is the leading cause of dementia and the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
No cure has been found, but treatments have been shown to improve a person's quality of life.
The Alzheimer's Association has more on Alzheimer's disease.