Results from a new study published in Science Translational Medicine [May 14;6(236)] suggest that the antidepressant citalopram (Celexa™) may benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists observed a drop in levels of beta-amyloid, one of the proteins suspected to cause the disease, in the spinal fluid of healthy volunteers after they took citalopram. In mice genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the scientists reported that citalopram stopped the growth of beta-amyloid plaques, a promising finding that suggests the drug might slow disease progression. Prior research in mice and isolated human neurons found that citalopram stimulates the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memories that is greatly affected in Alzheimer’s disease.
Citalopram belongs to a class of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that function by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. A study published in February 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine [Feb 19;311(7)] reported that citalopram improved symptoms of agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (read more about this study here). However, it remains unknown if citalopram has any impact on cognitive function or disease progression in people with Alzheimer’s. Past clinical trials with another SSRI, sertraline (Zoloft™) did not significantly improve cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
While these research findings are encouraging, much more work is needed to determine if citalopram or any other antidepressants will be viable treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Read more about the study in the LA Times. For more information about medications for depression and other conditions that may benefit patients with Alzheimer’s, read this Alzheimer’s Society UK article.
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