Alzheimer's: can an asthma medication help?

Alzheimer's: can an asthma medication help?

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Asthma drug with potential to treat Alzheimer's

A widely used drug for asthma appears to have the potential to treat Alzheimer's. In the future, this could finally lead to an effective treatment that can slow down Alzheimer's or possibly even cure it completely.

The current early-stage study, led by Lancaster University, examined the potential of the asthma drug salbutamol to treat Alzheimer's. The results were published in the English language journal "ACS Chemical Neuroscience".

How common is Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia. Approximately 47 million people around the world are affected by the disease. By 2050, more than 130 million people are expected to develop Alzheimer's. These numbers illustrate the importance of finding effective treatment for Alzheimer's. So far, no method has been identified that could cure the disease or stop it from progressing.

Tau protein particularly interesting for research

Much research in Alzheimer's has so far focused on the formation of amyloid plaques, which are caused by misfolding of the amyloid β protein. However, due to the disappointing results of numerous therapies aimed at the aggregation of this protein, attention is increasingly shifting to dew, the researchers report.

More than 80 compounds and medications have been studied

By using a new screening approach and a special analytical technique, a selection of more than 80 existing compounds and drugs could be examined simultaneously. So their effectiveness in preventing the formation of tau fibrils should be determined.

Treatment with adrenaline?

This method confirmed that epinephrine, better known as adrenaline, stabilizes the tau proteins and prevents the formation of tau fibrils. However, since our body does not absorb adrenaline easily and it is metabolized quickly, the researchers subsequently examined a number of readily available compounds with a similar chemical structure.

Candidates for the treatment of Alzheimer's

This research identified four topical drugs as potential candidates for the treatment of Alzheimer's: etamivan, fenoterol, dobutamine and salbutamol. It turned out that Etaminvan and Fenoterol have only a minor influence on the build-up of tau tissue. Dobutamine, which is used for the rapid treatment of heart attacks and heart failure, has proven to be beneficial.

However, since the effects of the drug are very short and need to be administered intravenously, it is not ideal as a basis for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.

What did the use of salbutamol do?

Further testing using a number of analytical techniques showed that salbutamol can inhibit tau aggregation in vitro. Studies in which salbutamol was added to tau-containing solutions resulted in a drastically reduced density of the fibrous tau structures that are responsible for the neurofibrillary tau entanglements. Usually the drug is used to treat asthma.

What makes salbutamol so interesting?

The researchers suspect that salbutamol interacts with an early stage of tau fibril formation and reduces its ability to form an initial nucleus that drives the aggregation process. Because salbutamol is easily absorbed, absorbed in the brain and stays in the body for several hours, it has attractive properties as a possible new treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

Secondary use of drugs

The research highlights the possibilities of using drugs for secondary medical purposes - including the molecular pathology of Alzheimer's disease, explains the research group. This offers the advantage that the active ingredients have already been extensively tested and their safety checked.

How safe is salbutamol?

Salbutamol, for example, has already undergone extensive human security checks. If follow-up studies show that it inhibits the progression of Alzheimer's disease in cell and animal models, this drug could be of interest for further research, while drastically reducing the cost and time required for typical drug development, the researchers add.

More research is needed

Because research is still at a very early stage, it remains unclear whether salbutamol will be effective in treating Alzheimer's in humans or not. However, the results so far justify further tests of salbutamol and similar drugs. If these are successful, clinical trials in humans could then be carried out. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • David J Townsend, Barbora Mala, Eleri Hughes, Rohanah Hussain, Giuliano Siligardi et al .: Circular dichroism spectroscopy identifies the β-adrenoceptor agonist salbutamol as a direct inhibitor of tau filament formation in vitro., In ACS Chemical Neuroscience (published June 10, 2020 ), ACS Chemical Neuroscience

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