A new study, conducted by Duke University’s Medical Centre, suggests that a drug designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease could reverse brain inflammation and neuron damage from adolescent exposure to alcohol.
After testing a drug used to slow the cognitive decline in adults with Alzheimer’s disease on rats, it appears to reverse brain inflammation and neuron damage.
The study began to further the understanding of the effects of intermittent binge drinking on the hippocampus, also known as the centre for critical learning and memory. This particular region, which is also associated with the development of anxiety, was monitored in rats to see if the drug, donepezil, could reverse the effects of binge drinking multiple times a week.
Scott Swartzwelder PhD is a Professor of psychiatry at Duke University and also the senior author of this study. Swartzwelder said: “Research has begun to show that human adolescents who drink early and consistently across the adolescent years have some deficits in brain function that can affect learning and memory, as well as anxiety and social behaviours.”
Swartzwelder continues: “The changes can be subtle, but who wants even subtle deficits in their brain function or how they think and feel?…Studies in animal models show that adolescent alcohol exposure can change the ways nerve cells communicate with each other, and the level of plasticity in brain circuits — compromising the ability of the brain to change and adapt. These changes can be seen in adulthood – long after the alcohol exposure has ended.”
Researchers observed that intermittent alcohol abuse doesn’t just increase brain inflammation, but it stops the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus and may even accelerate neuronal death.
After the adolescent rats were exposed to alcohol, the researchers waited for them to mature to adulthood where they were given donepezil, also know by the brand name Aricept. After the four day treatment the rats showed less inflammation as well as better ability to produce new neurons.