Lead researcher Christian Pike of the USC Davis School of Gerontology said the drugs, known as "TSPO ligands," are currently used for certain types of neuroimaging.
"We looked at the effects of TSPO ligand in young adult mice when pathology was at an early stage, and in aged mice when pathology was quite severe," Pike said in a statement. "TSPO ligand reduced measures of pathology and improved behavior at both ages."
The team's findings, published online in the Journal of Neuroscience, found four treatments -- once per week over four weeks -- in older mice resulted in a significant decrease of Alzheimer's-related symptoms and improvements in memory, meaning that TSPO ligands may actually reverse some elements of Alzheimer's disease.
Pike and co-authors include USC postdoctoral scientists Anna M. Barron, Anusha Jayaraman and Joo-Won Lee; as well as Donatella Caruso and Roberto C. Melcangi of the University of Milan and Luis M. Garcia-Segura of the Instituto Cajal in Spain, said the data suggested the possibility the drugs could prevent and treat Alzheimer's.
"It's just mouse data, but extremely encouraging mouse data," Pikes said. "There is a strong possibility that TSPO ligands similar to the ones used in our study could be evaluated for therapeutic efficacy in Alzheimer's patients within the next few years."