Antibiotics are great for fighting off infections caused by bacteria, fungi and certain parasites. But antibiotics may also help treat Alzheimer’s disease…

Research from the University of British Columbia has found a way to partially restore brain cell communication around areas damaged by plaques of waste protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Using the antibiotic, Ceftriaxone, researchers were able to reduce synaptic disruption between cells and clear the lines of neuronal communication in mice.

Areas around plaques in the brain show high levels of glutamate—a signaling molecule essential to communication between brain cell. High levels of glutamate are associated with high levels of hyperactivity in glia (the brain’s support cells). In addition, amid the glutamate-rich environment communication between neurons is disrupted, causing neurons to die in the later stages of the disease.

“By imaging the glial cells and glutamate itself around the plaques, we were able to see that the cells were not able to ‘remove’ the glutamate accumulating in these brain areas. By using Ceftriaxone, we were able to up-regulate glutamate transport,” explains Dr. Brian MacVicar, principal investigator of the study and professor of psychiatry at UBC.

The potency of antibiotics in the fighting against Alzheimer’s has been researched beforeClioquinol is an antibiotic used to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Back in 2001 Japanese researchers revealed it might battle Alzheimer’s disease as well. They discovered the drug dissolves Alzheimer’s-like plaques in mouse brains. Another study published in 2004 also found a significant decline in cognitive behavior of Alzheimer’s patients who were administered an antibiotic. In a span of three months they showed less dysfunctional behavior.

Antibiotics also made a difference in the gut microbiome of Alzheimer’s patients. A study from the University of Chicago published in Scientific Reports showed significant changes in the gut microbiome after antibiotic treatment. This suggests that the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome plays an important role in regulating immune system activity that impacts progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers aren’t proposing that a long-term course of antibiotics is going to be a treatment. “That’s just absurd for a whole number of reasons,” said Myles Minter PhD, lead author of the University of Chicago study. “But what this study does is allow us to explore further, now that we’re clearly changing the gut microbial population and have new bugs that are more prevalent in mice with altered amyloid deposition after antibiotics.”

Nonetheless, the discovery of the role of antibiotics remains particularly interesting. It opens up the possibility for an early intervention strategy that could prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

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