Salsalate, a popular prescription drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, could also help stave off neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, new study finds.
A group of California researchers reported that after they used the drug on mice diagnosed with dementia, they learned that salsalate (SSA) can reverse memory loss and cognitive decline by lowering the levels of a protein responsible for Alzheimer’s.
The protein called tau and a distant relative called beta amyloid are two altered proteins that are extremely toxic to brain tissue and can severely harm neurons and neural networks.
Past research had focused on beta amyloid, and researchers tried to develop drugs that can eliminate it from patients’ brains. But none of those drugs could deliver what it promised.
Yet, salsalate has now reached clinical trials. Researchers hope that it would be approved for patients with neurodegenerative diseases real soon. So far, no other drug can prevent tau protein buildup in Alzheimer’s patients, researchers noted.
The study was published this week in the journal Nature Medicine.
Study authors explained that the anti-inflammatory drug was proven effective in preventing acetylation, a mechanism that results in toxic tau proteins.
“One of the main enzymes that acetylates tau is p300, which can be inhibited by salicylate or SSA, an ancient drug commonly used as an NSAID,”
the researchers wrote in their research paper.
The research team argued that salsalate can be metabolized into salicylate, a compound related to acetylsalicylate also knwon as aspirin. But aspirin wasn’t proven effective in reining in tau protein levels in Alzheimer’s patients. Aspirins and salsalate are both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that reduce pain and inflammation by inhibiting prostaglandin-endoperoxide synthase.
Previous research had revealed that people who take on a regular basis NSAIDs including aspirin and salsalate have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later on.
But the only drug that provides a real protective effect in mice with Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia is salsalate, researchers noted. The team hopes the new use of the drug to be approved for humans very soon because salsalate was already proven as safe in arthritis patients.
Yet, critics who believe that beta amyloid proliferation is the main cause of Alzheimer’s disease say that the chances for this to happen are really ‘small.’ There is even a parallel study trying to prevent Alzheimer’s by preventing beta amyloid buildup in patients who do not yet show symptoms.
Dr. Dave Schubert, another Alzheimer’s researcher deemed the recent study’s results ‘interesting’ but ‘overstated.’ He explained that salsalate can be toxic in large doses which are required to treat Alzheimer’s.
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