Drugs Aging. 2011 Jan 1;28(1):1-11. doi: 10.2165/11586390-000000000-00000.
Potential predictors of hippocampal atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease.
Department of Pharmacology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India. firstname.lastname@example.org
The hippocampus is a vulnerable and plastic brain structure that is damaged by a variety of stimuli, e.g. hypoxia, hypoperfusion, hypoglycaemia, stress and seizures. Alzheimer’s disease is a common and important disorder in which hippocampal atrophy is reported. Indeed, the available evidence suggests that hippocampal atrophy is the starting point of the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease and a significant number of patients with hippocampal atrophy will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Studies indicate that hippocampal atrophy has functional consequences, e.g. cognitive impairment. Deposition of tau protein, formation of neurofibrillary tangles and accumulation of β-amyloid (Aβ) contributes to hippocampal atrophy together with damage caused by several other factors.
Some of the factors associated with the development of hippocampal atrophy in Alzheimer’s disease have been identified, e.g. hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemia, seizures, affective disturbances and stress, and more is being learnt about other factors. Hypertension can potentially damage the hippocampus through ischaemia caused by atherosclerosis and cerebral amyloid angiopathy. Diabetes can produce hippocampal lesions via both vascular and non-vascular pathologies and can reduce the threshold for hippocampal damage. Carriers of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE)-ε4 genotype have been shown to have greater mesial temporal atrophy and poorer memory functions than non-carriers.
In addition to giving rise to abnormal lipid metabolism, the ApoE-ε4 allele can affect the course of Alzheimer’s disease via both Aβ-dependent and -independent pathways. Repetitive seizures can increase Aβ-peptide production and cause neurotransmission dysfunction and cytoskeletal abnormalities or a combination of these. Affective disturbances and stress are proposed to increase corticosteroid-induced hippocampal damage in many different ways.
In the absence of any specific markers for predicting Alzheimer’s disease progression, it seems appropriate to learn more about the various predictors of hippocampal atrophy that determine the progression of Alzheimer’s disease from mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and then attempt to address these. It would be interesting to know to what extent these predictors play a role in the development of MCI or hasten the conversion of MCI to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, it would be useful to know the extent to which these predictors can worsen or aggravate existing Alzheimer’s disease.
Of the clinically used drugs in Alzheimer’s disease, anticholinesterases have been shown to slow down the rate of progression of hippocampal atrophy. One study observed that the neuroprotective effect of these agents is possibly due to an anti-Aβ effect produced by cholinergic stimulation. Similarly, antihypertensive and antihyperglycaemic drugs (pioglitazone and insulin) have been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or disease progression. Currently, there are no disease-modifying therapies available for Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been suggested that for treatment to be most effective, the regimen must be started before significant downstream damage has occurred (i.e. before the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, at the stage of MCI or earlier). Since the hippocampus is a plastic structure and atrophy of this structure is closely related to the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease, if we could control blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, treat behavioural and psychological symptoms, achieve satisfactory lipid lowering and maintain a seizure-free state in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, this may not only improve disease control but could also potentially affect the rate of disease progression.