Lithium, a drug already used to treat manic depression, may also prove to be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease, a Letter in Nature (Vol. 423, No. 6938, pp. 435-439, dated 22 May 2003) speculates.
The Alzheimer's brain carries two notable hallmarks - the build-up of protein deposits known as amyloid plaques outside nerve cells, and the accumulation of so-called neurofibrillary tangles inside cells. Peter S. Klein and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia report that lithium and kenpaullone, two inhibitors of the enzyme glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3), can stop plaques forming in the brains of mice with a form of Alzheimer's disease, and in cultured cells.
Such compounds can also prevent tangles from forming. "So GSK-3 inhibitors could be an attractive addition to the candidate drugs for preventing amyloid plaques - with the potential benefit of inhibiting the formation of tangles, too," say Bart De Strooper of the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, and James Woodgett of the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, Canada, in an accompanying News and Views article.
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