Zileuton (or Zyflo) is an asthma medication that has been used for 22 years.
Now, a team at Temple University in Philadelphia has tested it with mice, in a laboratory test to successfully reverse some of the most serious damage to the brain caused by dementia.
Still far the test with humans
The discovery could pave the way for treatments that could restore memory and spatial deterioration in people with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, although human tests will still take a while, says lead researcher Domenico Praticò.
There are still many things we do not know about diseases like Alzheimer’s, but the evidence points to tangles of tau proteins that block the connections between neurons. Another protein, the amyloid precursor protein (APP), is also thought to be involved. In this study, researchers focused on inflammatory molecules called leukotrienes. After discovering that leukotrienes cause damage to nerve cells as dementia develops, the team wanted to try to block the formation of these molecules.
That’s where zileuton came in. It was given to a group of mice designed to have dementia problems similar to the 60-year-old humans with this condition, while another group of mice were given placebos. After 16 weeks, the treated mice performed much better in the maze tests than the mice that had not received zileuton. It was also found that the treated group had 90 percent less leukotrienes in the brain and 50 percent fewer tau tangles.
For the first time, then, it is showing that we can do something after the disease is established. There is still much work to be done, but a small door to hope has opened. Another reason for optimism is that zileuton has already been approved as a safe medication.