March 15 (HealthDay News) -- A new class of Alzheimer's disease drugs may prevent long-term damage from traumatic brain injury, suggests a study of mice by Georgetown University Medical Center researchers.
The drugs -- gamma-secretase inhibitors -- are designed to target amyloid plaque that accumulates in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, according to background information in the study.
"No one knows why it occurs, but abnormal amounts of amyloid plaque have been found during an autopsy in about a third of brain injury victims, some of whom were children who would ordinarily never have had these deposits," Mark Burns, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at Georgetown and the study's lead author, said in a university news release. "Remarkably, these deposits occur in less than one day after injury."
It's also known that people who've suffered a brain injury have a 400 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to the researchers.
"In this study, we show that the same pathways activated chronically in Alzheimer's disease are activated acutely in traumatic brain injury and that they appear to play a very important role in secondary injury," Burns said.
He and his colleagues first conducted tests that showed that brain injury in mice resulted in substantially more amyloid peptide than normal. They then found that amyloid peptide production after brain injury was reduced in mice that received an experimental agent called DAPT, one of the first gamma secretase inhibitors developed and the basis for some Alzheimer's disease drugs now in clinical trials.
The researchers said that their findings, which are published online in Nature Medicine, suggest that this class of drugs could do something no other drug has been able to do -- prevent the long-term and continuing damage that often follows serious brain injury.
"This is an exciting finding that we hope can be readily tested in patients with traumatic brain injury," Burns said.
Georgetown University has applied for a patent for the technology involved in the research, the news release said.
SOURCE: Georgetown University Medical Center, news release, March 15, 2009