The type 2 diabetes drug rosiglitazone (Avandia) may have the ability to improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease, a new US study has revealed.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch tested the controversial medicine, which was banned in Europe in 2010 due to heart health concerns, on a group of genetically modified mice designed to serve as models for Alzheimer’s.
They and found that it had a positive effect on their cognitive performance, enhancing both learning and memory by targeting a key brain-signalling molecule known as ERK (extracellular signal-regulated kinase).
ERK becomes hyperactive both in the brains of Alzheimers patients and in the mice at a disease stage corresponding to mild cognitive impairment in human Alzheimer’s, the scientists explained. This excessive activity leads to improper synaptic transmission between neurons, affecting memory and learning ability.
Rosiglitazone stabilises ERK’s activity by triggering the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARã) pathway, which interacts with genes that respond to both PPARã and ERK.
UTMB professor Larry Denner, the lead author of the study, said: “Using this drug appears to restore the neuronal signalling required for proper cognitive function.
“It gives us an opportunity to test several FDA-approved drugs to normalize insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s patients and possibly also enhance memory, and it also gives us a remarkable tool to use in animal models to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie cognitive issues in Alzheimer’s.”
The findings appear in the latest issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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