For years, doctors have struggled to explain why some patients experience confusion, learning disorders and memory loss, a condition known as post-operative cognitive decline. Research from Imperial College has found evidence that the disorder is caused by cytokines, molecules secreted by the immune system that transmit information between cells. Surgery causes a cascade of immune responses, resulting in the increased production of cytokines.
Drugs that target the activity of cytokines are widely used to treat inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and are known to be very effective in humans. “This study suggests that one day we also might be able to use these therapies as a single, pre-surgical dose to prevent cognitive decline in susceptible patients,” said Mervyn Mave, the senior author of the study and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care at the University of California.
Professor Mave and his team gave a single of an anti-cytokine antibody to mice before surgically operating on them. The treatment significantly decreased blood levels of a cytokine called interleukin-1 beta (IL-1ß), limiting inflammation in the brain and prevented the mice from showing signs of cognitive decline.
“This is an important observation, as it demonstrates that cytokines are potential therapeutic targets in a wider range of diseases, not just autoimmune disease and cancer for which they are known targets,” said Professor Feldmann, Head of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology at Imperial College London.
It is hoped that these findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could lead to human clinical trials within a year.