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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 18:57 GMT
Memory loss 'reversed'
Brain
The drug acts on receptors in the brain
Scientists have developed a treatment that might reverse memory loss in people receiving medication for Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

The drugs have been successfully shown to reverse a certain form of memory loss in monkeys.

It is hoped they can be developed to work on humans.


What's remarkable about this particular drug is that patients would only need to use it for a short period of time to achieve long-lasting effects

Professor Patricia Goldman-Rakic, Yale University School of Medicine
The treatments act on what is known as the "working" memory. This allows individuals to briefly hold information in mind while they think things through or try to make sense of a problem.

Working memory can become disturbed in people with many conditions, including schizophrenia.

Antipsychotic drugs such as haloperidol are commonly prescribed for schizophrenia.

They work by blocking a receptor, known as the D2 receptor, in the brain that is stimulated by the brain chemical dopamine.

Scientists believe the body tries to compensate for this blockade by creating more D2 receptors.

However, this tends to lead to an equivalent reduction in D1 receptors, which could explain why people who take haloperidol-type medications suffer impairments in their memory.

A team from the Yale University School of Medicine attempted to reverse this decline by stimulating D1 receptor function in six female monkeys.

They did this by using an experimental drug called ABT 431 - a treatment that is not yet available for humans.

The drug effectively reversed haloperidol-induced memory loss, and the improvement has been sustained for more than a year.

'Remarkable drug'

Lead researcher Professor Patricia Goldman-Rakic said: "What's remarkable about this particular drug is that patients would only need to use it for a short period of time to achieve long-lasting effects.

"By stimulating D1 receptors, the medication might also prove useful to people with other conditions characterised by low dopamine levels, such as Parkinson's disease, or memory loss related to ageing.

"In these diseases, long-term treatment often becomes part of the problem because of unwanted side effects."

Professor Goldman-Rakic said it might eventually be possible to give patients periodic injections or pills containing ABT.

The Yale scientists trained monkeys to become skilled at memory tasks.

When given haloperidol, the monkeys' ability fell away, but was shown to improve again when they were given ABT.


We want to see people offered more of an informed choice about the drugs that are best suited to them

Gary Hogman, National Schizophrenia Fellowship
The National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF) welcomed the research.

Gary Hogman, head of policy and campaigns, said: "We want to see people offered more of an informed choice about the drugs that are best suited to them.

"That means being open about the sometimes devastating side effects of the older drug treatments and ending the rationing of the newer drugs that have been shown, in many cases, to have fewer and less severe side effects.

"Drugs designed to offset side effects from the main drug treatments can only be a stop-gap answer. There is also a real need to invest in the breadth of care and treatment needed to support people with severe mental illness."

The research is published in the magazine Science.

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27 Jan 99 | Health
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