Professor Yi Zhong of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and colleagues found two kinds of drugs -- erlotinib, or Tarceva, and gefitinib, or Iressa -- suppressed epidermal growth factor receptor production which helps tumors to grow. Over-expression of the epidermal growth factor receptor is a characteristic feature of certain cancers, particularly lung cancers.
Zhong's team said signaling within cells that is induced by epidermal growth factor receptor activation also plays a role in the pathology -- still poorly understood -- involved in the amyloid-beta plaques-associated memory loss in Alzheimer's patients.
The team demonstrated that enhanced activation of epidermal growth factor receptors in brain cells exacerbated memory loss in the amyloid-beta-42 fruit fly model of Alzheimer's disease. This led them to dose 3-day-old flies of this type with the two anti-cancer drugs over a week's time. By day 11, the memory loss reversed, the study said.
The team tested the drug combo on middle-age mice, with advanced memory loss during an 18-day period.
"Eighteen days was sufficient to reverse loss in these mice, although we should note that these animals had few morphological changes in the brain despite their severe memory loss when treatment began," Zhong said in a statement.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.