Using dopamine to treat impaired memory in neurodegenerative disease

Theme Mental health

Workstream Biological interventions, trial recruitment and safety

Status: This project is ongoing

This project aims to explore if we can use dopamine to enhance sleep in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s dementia (AD). We also want to investigate whether it would be feasible to conduct larger clinical trials among this patient group. We will do this by conducting a double-blind placebo-controlled trial on a small number of participants.

A double-blind placebo-controlled trial means that patients will be given either a dummy drug (placebo) or the medication we are trialling. Neither our researchers nor the participants will know which of the two they will be getting.

Over 60 per cent of people with AD or mild cognitive impairment have at least one recognised sleep disorder in addition to neurodegeneration interfering with sleep. This includes sleep apnoea (when breathing stops and starts while you sleep), other disordered breathing and insomnia (difficulty getting to or staying asleep). It is therefore likely that disordered sleep develops because of underlying disease processes in AD.

Recent studies have shown that disturbed sleep could also cause or exacerbate cognitive impairment or disease progression in someone with AD. This could be because the brain can’t clear the toxic substances that build up in it throughout the day as efficiently as it would if sleep wasn’t disturbed. This is especially relevant while patients are experiencing a sleep phase called slow wave sleep. Slow wave sleep is when our brainwaves are at their slowest, our heart rate and breathing rates decrease and our muscles relax.

During the initial phase of this study (DOPAMIND 1) we showed that dopamine increased slow wave sleep duration by around 11 per cent in healthy older adults. We want to explore whether improving slow wave sleep using dopamine has the potential to delay the onset of AD or slow its progression.