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Drugs Aging. 2005;22 Suppl 1:27-37.

Molecular rationale for the pharmacological treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

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  • 1Centre of Excellence on Neurodegenerative Diseases and Department of Pharmacological Sciences, University of Milan, Italy.


Cerebral deposition of amyloid plaques containing amyloid beta-peptide (Abeta) has traditionally been considered the central feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Abeta is derived from amyloid precursor protein (APP), which is cleaved by several different proteases: alpha-, beta- and gamma-secretase. In the past decade, however, the molecular pathogenesis of AD has been shown to involve alterations in several neurotransmitter, inflammatory, oxidative, and hormonal pathways that represent potential targets for AD prevention and treatment. Much research has shown a direct link between cholinergic impairment and altered APP processing as a major pathogenetic event in AD. Three highly probable mechanisms of APP regulation through inhibition of acetylcholinesterase are thus current topics of investigation. Indeed, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors appear to cause selective muscarinic activation of alpha-secretase and to induce the translation of APP mRNA; they may also restrict amyloid fibre assembly. Activation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors is considered a probable cause of chronic neurodegeneration in AD, and memantine has been widely used in some countries in AD patients to block cerebral N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors that normally respond to glutamate. Further studies are needed to determine whether antioxidants such as vitamins C and E are effective, through various mechanisms, in patients with mild-to-moderate AD. Additional data are also required for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some of which appear to possess experimental effects that may ultimately prove favourable in AD patients. Statins also warrant further investigation, since they have activated alpha-secretase and they reduced Abeta generation and amyloid accumulation in a transgenic mouse model. beta-Secretase would seem to be an ideal target for anti-amyloid therapy in AD, but potential clinical and pharmacological issues, such as ensuring selectivity of inhibition, stability, and ease of blood-brain barrier penetration and cellular uptake, remain to be addressed for beta-secretase inhibitors. gamma-Secretase is not an easy candidate for pharmacological manipulation. Immunotherapeutic strategies have targeted Abeta directly; however, intensive investigation of indirect approaches to the management of AD with immunotherapy is now underway.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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