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New Drugs for Alzheimer's Disease - Article
ABSTRACT: Alzheimer's disease is characterized by degeneration of various structures in the brain, with development of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Deficiencies of acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters also occur. Pharmacologic treatment of the disease generally seeks to correct the histopathology, the biochemical derangements or their effects. The only drugs labeled to date for the treatment of cognitive symptoms in patients with Alzheimer's disease are two cholinesterase inhibitors that prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in the synapse. Both medications are associated with modest improvements in cognitive function. However, all benefit is lost when these drugs are discontinued; the disease then progresses to the level seen in placebo-treated patients. Tacrine, the first cholinesterase inhibitor to be so labeled, must be taken four times daily and is associated with hepatic toxicity. Donepezil is taken once daily. Side effects of the cholinesterase inhibitors include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which tend to subside after the titration period. Other drugs that have shown some promise in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease are vitamin E, estrogen, selegiline and a mixture of ergoloid mesylates. Anti-inflammatory drugs and nicotine are also being studied for their effects as neuroprotectors or neurotransmitter enhancers. The caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's disease may see little effect from these or other investigational agents, but nursing home placement may be delayed.