Antidepressant could slow Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Antidepressant could ‘improve old age for millions’ by slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

  • First human trails of drug trazodone’s effects on the diseases will start this year
  • Results in mice suggest it could slow neurodegenerative conditions
  • Researchers expect to confirm if it is an effective treatment within five years
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An existing antidepressant drug could ‘improve old age for millions’ by slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, Cambridge University scientists believe.

The first human trials will start later this year to determine if the drug trazodone can protect against the march of neurodegenerative conditions.

The medicine is already licensed in the UK for the treatment of depression but has not been used previously as a potential treatment for dementia.

If the early trials on healthy humans are successful, researchers will then test the drug on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. 

They expect to confirm whether it is an effective treatment within five years.

An antidepressant drug could slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (stock)

And, because the existing drug has already been shown to be safe, it could become available to patients as an NHS-approved treatment much more quickly than newly developed drugs.

Lead scientist Professor Giovanna Mallucci, of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said the drug was thought to work by boosting production rates of proteins which protect against brain cell death – a process known as protein synthesis.

She told the Dementias 2019 conference in London last week: ‘Delaying this process [of brain cell degeneration] will improve old age for millions, which I would consider an amazingly good result in the treatment of dementia.

‘If we could keep people at their early cognitive presentation or even just slow down the rate at which they decline, I think it would really transform lives.’

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Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.

It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.

The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are age 65 and older.

More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.

It is unknown what causes Alzheimer’s. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.

 Signs and symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering newly learned information
  • Disorientation
  • Mood and behavioral changes
  • Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
  • More serious memory loss
  • Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking

Stages of Alzheimer’s:

  • Mild Alzheimer’s (early-stage) – A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses
  • Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle-stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
  • Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.

Brain cell degeneration is a common factor in dementia and other brain diseases, like Parkinson’s and CJD, also known as ‘mad cow disease’.

It happens when cells become stressed and stop producing enough protein, which makes them unable to work properly and leads to cell death.

Professor Mallucci said the drug would not be a ‘panacea’ or prevent the onset of dementia but positive results from early studies on cells and in mice suggested it could be a successful way of slowing progression of the condition.

Speaking after the conference, she said: ‘We are doing our first studies to see if trazodone boosts protein synthesis rates in humans later this year.

‘If the studies show it works in human brains in the same way [as it did in mice], I am really optimistic that we will see an effect from that in some patients – I’d be surprised if there was no effect.

‘I feel it’s likely to work in some people because it was so powerful in the animal model.’

Earlier this month, a separate study by University College London and Hong Kong University found no association between patients who prescribed trazodone for other conditions and a reduced risk of developing dementia.

But this study was based on examining medical records and did not take into account different doses or how long each patient took the medication for. 

It also looked only at prevention of the disease, not the slowing of progression or alleviation of symptoms.

There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to exceed 1million by 2025.

Dr David Reynolds, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘We look forward to seeing Prof Mallucci’s early-stage research into trazodone as a treatment progress into clinical trials in people. The findings from studies in mice are promising, but what is true in animals does not always hold true in people.

‘Trazodone is a licensed antidepressant, and already used in some cases to help manage symptoms in Alzheimer’s.

‘The best way to see if trazodone could benefit people with dementia is through well-controlled clinical trials.’


Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, and around 127,000 people in the UK live with the condition.

Figures also suggest one million Americans also suffer.

It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.

It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.

There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.  

The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.


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