Gilenya’s Potential Effect On Memory And Learning

Researchers are exploring the possibility that the disease modifying drug Gilenya could help improve memory and reduce the symptoms of conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. Scientists are also hopeful that Gilenya could improve cognition and help improve cognition in multiple sclerosis patients.

Gilenya, which is manufactured by Novartis, was the first oral medication made available for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. It controls MS damage by suppressing the immune system, although we are not exactly sure how its actions on the immune system work to control disease progression (hey, at least we know it works!). We are also learning more about Gilenya’s secondary effects on the central nervous system (CNS), which are separate from its action on the immune system. The CNS is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, which are the areas where lesions accumulate in MS. The effects Gilenya has on the CNS are especially interesting because they could potentially improve some cognitive symptoms of MS, as well as be helpful in treating other conditions.

In a study done on mice, which was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine discovered that Gilenya builds up in the brain and inhibits an enzyme called histone deacetylase. So what the heck is histone deacetylase, and what does it do? In the brain histone deacetylase plays a key role in the processing of information, and therefore it affects memory and learning. After taking Gilenya, the mice used in the study no longer showed signs of remembering traumatic events. Or at least, since you can’t exactly ask a mouse if they remember something or not, it did not seem  that they had any more anxiety related to traumatic memories. The immediate question this raises is whether Gilenya could improve disorders in which a memory could provoke fear such as PTSD or anxiety.

PTSD is a condition that occurs after a person experiences a traumatic event. People suffer from bad dreams and flashbacks during which they feel like they are reliving the event all over again. Flashbacks can be triggered by loud noises, sights, or even smells. The condition can become overwhelming and often leads the individual living in isolation or socially withdrawing  in an effort to avoid triggers. PTSD is famous for plaguing troops returning from war, but it can also affect victims of accidents or violent crimes.  The hope is that we can continue to study Gilenya’s effect on histone deacetylase and find out if it could be used to help reduce the trauma associated with a bad memory.

Scientists are also keeping a close eye on whether Gilenya could improve cognition. Theoretically, if Gilenya does improve the ability to process information it could potentially impact memory and learning in people who have multiple sclerosis. Reducing anxiety could also be a potentially beneficial effect for many MSers. The lead study author Sarah Spiegel noted “[studing Gilenya’s effects on cognition] should be relatively straightforward because patients are already treated with the drug”.  It is unlikely that Gilenya could have a profound effect on patients who already have cognitive issues, but this information could be a consideration when making the decision about which DMD to use for individual patients.1,2

I am currently on Gilenya and I haven’t noticed any new superhuman powers, but I’ll keep you guys posted!

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