Old age comes with a whole host of problems and Alzheimer’s is one of them. The biggest drawback of having this disease is there is no vaccine, pill, or cure of any sort to rescue the patient. Scientists the world over have been researching Alzheimer’s for decades, and now it seems there might just be a chance.
Hormones play a major role in the development of our mental and physical well-being. And if this study is to be believed, then the love hormone, oxytocin, can help in treating Alzheimer’s patients.
According to the findings published in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communication, scientists looked at a hormone which is conventionally known for its role in the female reproductive system and in inducing the feelings of love and well-being—oxytocin—as a possible element to treat cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.
What is Alzheimer’s?
This disease is a progressive disorder in which the nerve cells (neurons) in a person’s brain and the connections among them degenerate slowly, causing severe memory loss, intellectual deficiencies, and deterioration in motor skills and communication.
One of the major causes of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of a protein called amyloid b (Ab) in clusters around neurons in the brain, which hampers their activity and triggers their degeneration.
This takes a major toll on the memory of the person and she/he can lose control over their bodily movement.
This degeneration affects a specific trait of the neurons, called “synaptic plasticity,” which is the ability of synapses (the site of signal exchange between neurons) to adapt to an increase or decrease in signalling activity over time.
Synaptic plasticity is crucial to the development of learning and cognitive functions in the hippocampus.
Love hormone, oxytocin to the rescue
Advancing this research effort, a team of scientists from Japan, led by Professor Akiyoshi Saitoh from the Tokyo University of Science, has looked at oxytocin.
“Oxytocin was recently found to be involved in regulating learning and memory performance, but so far, no previous study deals with the effect of oxytocin on Ab-induced cognitive impairment,” Prof Saitoh says.
Realising this, Prof Saitoh’s group set out to connect the dots. According to him, the love hormone oxytocin has the power to enhance the signalling abilities. He also suggests that oxytocin can reverse the impairment of synaptic plasticity that Ab causes.
Oxytocin is known to facilitate certain cellular chemical activities that are important in strengthening neuronal signalling potential and formation of memories, such as the influx of calcium ions. Previous studies have suspected that Ab suppresses some of these chemical activities.
When the scientists artificially blocked these chemical activities, they found that the addition of oxytocin addition to the hippocampal slices did not reverse the damage to synaptic plasticity caused by Ab.
Oxytocin itself does not have any effect on synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, but it is somehow able to reverse the ill-effects of Ab.
Prof Saitoh said, “This is the first study in the world that has shown that oxytocin can reverse Ab-induced impairments in the mouse hippocampus.” This is only a first step and further research remains to be conducted in vivo in animal models and then humans before sufficient knowledge can be gathered to reposition oxytocin into a drug for Alzheimer’s. But, Prof Saitoh remains hopeful.
“At present, there are no sufficiently satisfactory drugs to treat dementia, and new therapies with novel mechanisms of action are desired. Our study puts forth the interesting possibility that oxytocin could be a novel therapeutic modality for the treatment of memory loss associated with cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. We expect that our findings will open up a new pathway to the creation of new drugs for the treatment of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease,” he concluded.
(With inputs from ANI)