New Alzheimer’s Drug May Have Potential Treating Parkinson’s Disease

In an August 2022 study published by Science Signaling, the novel (new) Alzheimer’s drug, itanapraced, was shown to reverse the damage to brain cells caused by Parkinson’s disease in cultured neurons (nerve cells grown in a lab) and in animal models.

Key takeaways:
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    The novel Alzheimer’s drug, itanapraced, was shown to reverse the damage to brain cells caused by Parkinson’s disease according to a new study.
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    Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are the two most common neurodegenerative diseases in the world.
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    In the U.S. 6.2 million people have AD, and about one million have PD. The numbers for both diseases are expected to increase yearly due to the increase in the population over age 65.
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    With ongoing research in both of these neurodegenerative diseases, there is hope that cures for each will be discovered in the future.

All Parkinson’s disease (PD) does not have the same cause

There are different types of PD. People with a family history of PD (familial PD) account for 10-15% of the PD population. The remaining 85-90% of PD cases are sporadic PD (or idiopathic PD), which means the cause of the PD remains unclear.

Since the cause of most PD cases is unclear, all PD research is important to PD no matter the type. Ongoing research has the potential to discover the causes for all PD in the future, which leads to better and sooner treatment.

New research study

Itanapraced is an experimental drug for early Alzheimer’s disease which, Singapore researchers have discovered, breaks the PD cycle of toxic changes in brain cells that produce dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in brain cells and is required for movement. A lack of dopamine causes PD movement symptoms tremors, slow movement, and stiffness.

This research study involves the LRRK2 gene. The LRRK2 gene mutation (found in some familial PD cases) and another gene called AICD (an important gene in Alzheimer’s disease) are involved in a repeating cycle of damage to the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain that produce dopamine.

In a news release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Associate Professor Zeng Li, a Senior Research Scientist and project co-lead, National Neuroscience Institute, said, “We found that AICD promotes LRRK2 activity and this is highly interesting because it connects AICD and LRRK2 on a common pathway; so drugs targeting the AICD could not only work for AD, but also PD.”

The researchers discovered that the drug itanapraced stopped this toxic cycle from repeating which then reverses the damage to the neurons in the brain that produce dopamine.

Breaking this cycle reduced or reversed the neuron damage caused by the LRRK2 gene mutation and in the PD study models.

LRRK2, Itanapraced & Parkinson's Disease (PD)-2

PD and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) – what is the connection?

PD and AD are the two most common neurodegenerative diseases in the world.

In the U.S. 6.2 million people have AD, and about one million have PD. Both diseases are expected to increase in numbers in the future, especially as life expectancy increases.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2020, “the nation’s 65-and-older population has grown rapidly since 2010, driven by the aging of Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. The 65-and-older population grew by over a third (34.2% or 13,787,044) during the past decade, and by 3.2% (1,688,924) from 2018 to 2019.”

Similar age of onset

For PD, the average age of onset is 62, with an onset range of 50-65 years. In AD, age of onset is usually after the mid-60s.

There is a small percentage of people with early-onset AD or PD. Early-onset PD can start before age 50 and accounts for about 4% of cases. In AD, early-onset starts before the age of 60 and accounts for 5-6% of all cases.

Similarities in symptoms

PD and AD have many symptoms in common such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. Psychotic symptoms of delusions and hallucinations can occur in both PD and AD, however, the person with PD has an increased risk of psychotic symptoms due to the side effects of the medications used to treat the movement disorders of PD.

While PD and AD share some common symptoms, they are diagnosed based on the main characteristics of the disease.

PD and AD are characterized differently

While PD and AD are both neurodegenerative diseases, they are characterized and expressed differently because they originate in different areas of the brain – substantia nigra for PD and entorhinal cortex and hippocampus in AD.

PD is characterized by motor symptoms including tremors, muscle stiffness (rigidity), problems with balance, slowness of movement (bradykinesia), and small amounts of movement (hypokinesia).

AD is characterized by memory problems, which are typically one of the first signs of the disease.

Both PD and AD have treatments available to help the physical and mental symptoms associated with neurodegeneration. No cure has been discovered yet for either disease but research is ongoing for both.

Hope for PD and AD

As stated by Louis Tan, Director, Research and Senior Consultant, Department of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute, in the EurekAlert, “This important discovery opens the way to finding a common therapeutic target for both Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer’s disease which are the two most common neurodegenerative diseases globally. This novel drug has the potential to improve and preserve the function and quality of life for those afflicted with these diseases.”

With ongoing research in both of these neurodegenerative diseases, there is hope that cures for each will be discovered in the future.

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