Modulation of Brain Hyperexcitability: Potential New Therapeutic Approaches in Alzheimer’s Disease
Toniolo S., Sen A., Husain M.
People with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have significantly higher rates of subclinical and overt epileptiform activity. In animal models, oligomeric Aβ amyloid is able to induce neuronal hyperexcitability even in the early phases of the disease. Such aberrant activity subsequently leads to downstream accumulation of toxic proteins, and ultimately to further neurodegeneration and neuronal silencing mediated by concomitant tau accumulation. Several neurotransmitters participate in the initial hyperexcitable state, with increased synaptic glutamatergic tone and decreased GABAergic inhibition. These changes appear to activate excitotoxic pathways and, ultimately, cause reduced long-term potentiation, increased long-term depression, and increased GABAergic inhibitory remodelling at the network level. Brain hyperexcitability has therefore been identified as a potential target for therapeutic interventions aimed at enhancing cognition, and, possibly, disease modification in the longer term. Clinical trials are ongoing to evaluate the potential efficacy in targeting hyperexcitability in AD, with levetiracetam showing some encouraging effects. Newer compounds and techniques, such as gene editing via viral vectors or brain stimulation, also show promise. Diagnostic challenges include identifying best biomarkers for measuring sub-clinical epileptiform discharges. Determining the timing of any intervention is critical and future trials will need to carefully stratify participants with respect to the phase of disease pathology.