In a bid to curb the rising number of older people afflicted with dementia, experts in the field of biomedicine are coming up with new breakthroughs that may help fight against the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Recently, a study revealed that anti-aging genes can boost mental capacities of the elderly, but now, a latest research at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Pennsylvania claimed that anti-depressants can also be used in treating Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for roughly 50 to 80 percent of cases of dementia, the general term for memory loss.

A common anti-depressant drug known as citalopram, also known commercially as Celexa, is found to lessen the production of a protein called amyloid beta, which is largely responsible for the "plaques" clumping in the brain, a major triggering factor of Alzheimer's disease. These plaques can form at any age, but more often than not, they occur in people age 65 and up.

The discovery came after past researches about a kind of anti-depressant drug called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Previous findings revealed that serotonin, or a chemical messenger in the brain, suppressed the production of amyloid beta. This led to a speculation whether the drugs could restrain Alzheimer's. The researchers could only find out.

In the study, separate experiments were done in mice with Alzheimer's and humans with healthy brains.

In one experiment, the old mice were given citalopram, a variety of SSRI, and their brain plaques were monitored for 28 days using a two-photon imaging of Jin-Moo Lee, one of the authors of the study. What they found was promising. Citalopram not only halted the growth of the plaques already present in the mice's brain but it also reduced the buildup of new plaques by 78 percent.

Meanwhile, in the experiment with humans, 23 subjects belonging to the age group 18 to 50 were administered with a single dose of citalopram. When samples of spinal fluid were taken from them, it revealed a quick 37-percent decline in the production of amyloid beta within the 24 hours the drug was administered.

"Antidepressants appear to be significantly reducing amyloid beta production, and that's exciting," said John Cirrito, an assistant professor of neurology of Washington University and also one of the senior authors of the study. "But while antidepressants generally are well tolerated, they have risks and side effects. Until we can more definitively prove that these drugs help slow or stop Alzheimer's in humans, the risks aren't worth it. There is still much more work to do."

The latest findings, which came out in the Science Translational Medicine journal, could be key to a more accessible and economical treatment for Alzheimer's disease but the researchers warned that patients should not jump into buying citalopram immediately in order for them to slow down the buildup of the disease. After all, anti-depressants have side effects such as nausea, anxiety, diarrhea, constipation, and severe headaches.

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