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In a promising discovery, researchers find that certain antibiotics can treat early-onset dementia

Dementia and Alzheimer’s affect a large number of the popular the world over. And yet, a cure or promising treatments are still far cry. However, this study might change all that.
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PTI Published: 12 Jan 2020, 15:22 pm IST
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Ah… dementia! It’s one of the ugliest diseases out there. From memory to loss to declining thinking skills—it rips away the identity of its victims. And yet, the medical community is still struggling to find a cure for its God-awful affliction. Thankfully, though scientific research is still striving to find treatments for dementia and its related disorder Alzheimer’s.

Also read: 5 things you need to know about caregiving for a parent with Alzheimer’s

In fact, researchers have found that a class of antibiotics called ‘aminoglycosides’ may be a promising treatment for a form of early-onset dementia.

According to the study, published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, front temporal dementia, the most common type of the syndrome, begins between ages 40 and 65, and affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain.

The syndrome leads to behaviour changes, difficulty in speaking, writing, and memory deterioration, the researchers, including those from the University of Kentucky in the US, said.

Some patients with early-onset dementia have a specific genetic mutation which prevents their brain’s cells from making a protein called progranulin the scientists said in a statement.

While the protein is not thoroughly studied, researchers believe that its absence is linked to this form of dementia.

In the current study, scientists discovered that after aminoglycoside antibiotics were added to nerve cells exhibiting this mutation, the cells started making full-length progranulin protein by skipping the mutation.

If this research lives up to its claims, then this class of antibiotics can, in fact, treat early-onset dementia. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“These patients’ brain cells have a mutation that prevents progranulin from being made. The team found that by adding a small antibiotic molecule to the cells, they could ‘trick’ the cellular machinery into making it,” said Matthew Gentry, a co-author of the study from the University of Kentucky.

Two aminoglycoside antibiotics – Gentamicin and G418 – were both effective in fixing the mutation, and making the functional progranulin protein, the study noted.

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The scientists plan to study the antibiotics’ effects on mice carrying the mutation which causes frontotemporal dementia.

While Gentamicin is a clinically approved medicine, the researchers said its
usage is limited since it is associated with a number of adverse side effects.

“If we can get the right resources and physician to work with, we could potentially repurpose this drug. This is an early stage of the study, but it provides an important proof of concept that these aminoglycoside antibiotics or their derivatives can be a therapeutic avenue for frontotemporal dementia,” said study co-author Haining Zhu from the University of Kentucky.

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