KEY POINTS

  • New laboratory study found salbutamol may help treat Alzheimer's disease
  • Compound found in the drug inhibits the formation of "tau" tangles, a hallmark of Alzheimer's
  • Researchers will be testing the drug on animal models of the disease

A laboratory study determined that asthma drug salbutamol can help prevent the formation of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Since this was still a lab study, scientists wanted to take the next step of testing the drug in animal models.

Brains of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease show plaques between the nerve cells. Clumps of fibers called neurofibrillary tangles are also present inside the cells. These plaques consist of the beta-amyloid protein, while the tangles are made up of tau. During clinical trials, researchers found out that drugs that clear the beta-amyloid protein did not slow down the progression of the disease. As a result, they shifted their attention to tau.

In a study published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience, researchers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom believed that a drug that targets “tau” can be more promising in treating Alzheimer’s. Previous research showed that without the neurofibrillary tangles, the beta-amyloid protein seems not to cause harm to the nerve cells.

As to the degree of severity of the disease, scientists ascertained that they can better determine the seriousness of the disease using the number of tangles as compared to amyloid plaques.

New study shows asthma drug could potentially treat Alzheimer's disease New study shows asthma drug could potentially treat Alzheimer's disease Photo: InspiredImages - Pixabay

Screening Of Blocking Compound

The scientists used synchrotron radiation circular dichroism, a powerful technique for illustrating changes in the structure of the protein. Using Diamond Light Source (DLS) or U.K.’s national synchrotron light source science facility located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, they screened 80 compounds, testing the efficacy of each compound in blocking the formation of the tau tangles.

One of the first compounds that the researchers pinpointed as promising was the hormone epinephrine. It stabilized tau proteins and successfully inhibited them from forming the tangles. However, since the body metabolizes epinephrine rapidly, they screened four other drugs that have the same chemical structure as that of epinephrine.

Pinpointing Salbutamol

Out of the other four, two came close – dobutamine and salbutamol. Dobutamine is used in treating heart attacks, while salbutamol is used for treating asthma. Since the former required injection, the researchers scratched it off the list, leaving salbutamol as the most likely candidate to treat Alzheimer’s. Accordingly, upon further testing, they found that salbutamol binds to tau molecules and prevents them from forming a “nuclei.” This lessens the possibility of other proteins to aggregate.

“This work is in the very early stages, and we are some way from knowing whether or not salbutamol will be effective at treating Alzheimer’s disease in human patients,” said Prof. David Middleton, one of the authors and a faculty member of the Chemistry Department at Lancaster University. He also emphasized that the results of their initial laboratory study justify further testing that will be done on animal models of the disease.