December 16, 2013

Cancer drug enhances cognition

The breast cancer drug tamoxifen improves cognitive performance in post-menopausal women.


Tamoxifen – commonly known as a medicine used to treat and prevent breast cancer – improves cognitive performance in post-menopausal women, Vanderbilt researchers have found.

Paul Newhouse, M.D., professor of Psychiatry, and colleagues examined how tamoxifen affected cognitive performance in 21 healthy older women. After three months of tamoxifen or placebo treatment, the investigators used anti-cholinergic drugs to induce cognitive dysfunction and then administered a panel of cognitive tests. In previous work, the team had demonstrated that estrogen reduces the cognitive dysfunction caused by anti-cholinergic drugs.

Now, in studies reported in the December issue of Neuropsychopharmacology, they show that tamoxifen also reduces impairment from cholinergic blockade on tasks of verbal episodic memory and spatial navigation. Effects on attentional and psychomotor tasks were more variable.

The study provides evidence that tamoxifen acts as an estrogen-like agonist to enhance cognition mediated by cholinergic neuronal signaling. It further validates the team’s previous findings and suggests that selective estrogen receptor modulators (like tamoxifen) may have long-term benefits on brain function.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (AG021476, AG030380, RR000109).

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