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January 21, 2011

Jeremy Tuttle, PhD, receives grant to explore possible link between bladder control drugs and structural brain damage

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One of the most-rapidly growing areas of pharmaceutical sales may pose a risk to patients who also suffer from age-related dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. University of Virginia neuroscientist Jeremy Tuttle, Ph.D., has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study whether certain bladder control medications might actually accelerate brain structural damage.



“The most common reason for institutionalizing a person suffering from age-related dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is urinary incontinence. Many times these patients are also taking bladder control medications and there is conflicting research that certain types of these medications could worsen, or possibly benefit, these brain conditions,” says Dr. Tuttle.

The drugs used to treat urinary incontinence are known as antimuscarinic agents and Dr. Tuttle says they affect the metabolism of amyloid peptide in unpredictable ways. Amyloid-beta peptide is deposited as plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients and is thought to be involved in the disease. Antimuscarinic agents can affect amyloid metabolism consistently but oppositely, even if the drugs are relatively non-specific antagonists of muscarinic receptors. There are at least 5 antimuscarinic drugs currently on the market and they differ in specificity and how they are distributed in the body. Testing their impact upon amyloid will suggest which of the compounds might pose less risk and if there are beneficial effects that might be examined further.

Tuttle plans to use his grant to study biochemical and mouse models that can be used to test the effects of the current medications and to have a model ready to evaluate new drugs which come into development. Dr. Tuttle is currently involved with Pfizer evaluating how Detrol affects amyloid metabolism.

“It is only recently that this potential danger of bladder control medications to mental status and the brain has been realized” Dr. Tuttle says.

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