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LISBON, Portugal — A drug for treating constipation could also help boost memory, a new study reveals. Prucalopride, also known as Resolor, typically treats digestive problems. Researchers believe it may also tackle cognition impairments due by psychiatric disorders like major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

In a recent trial, 44 healthy volunteers between 18 to 36 years-old took either prucalopride or a placebo. After six days of taking the pill, researchers showed the group a series of animals and landscapes. Following an MRI scan, the volunteers underwent a memory test.

The 22 volunteers taking prucalopride were significantly better at the memory test. They also had brain scans that showed enhanced activity in areas related to cognition. The increased activity appeared in areas like the hippocampus and right angular gyrus, which both have a link to memory. Prucalopride does not have significant side-effects if taken under medical supervision.

A 5-percent boost in memory using prucalopride

“Even when the low mood associated with depression is well treated with conventional antidepressants, many patients continue to experience problems with their memory. Our study provides exciting early evidence in humans of a new approach that might be a helpful way to treat these residual cognitive symptoms,” reports Dr. Susannah Murphy from the University of Oxford in a media release.

“Participants who had taken prucalopride for 6 days performed much better than those receiving placebo on the memory test; the prucalopride group identified 81% of previously viewed images versus 76% in the placebo group. Statistical tests indicate that this was a fairly large effect – such an obvious cognitive improvement with the drug was a surprise to us,” adds Dr. Angharad de Cates.

“This is a proof-of-concept study, and so a starting point for further investigation. We are currently planning and undertaking further studies looking at prucalopride and other 5HT4 agonists in patient and clinically vulnerable populations, to see if our findings in healthy volunteers can be replicated and have clinical importance”.

“This study highlights a very interesting and much needed potential for repurposing drugs to help cognitive dysfunction, which is often associated with psychiatric disorders even in remitted states. Importantly, as the authors also state, it will be vital to translate these findings from healthy populations into clinical populations. It will also be important to understand if prucalopride adds to the effects of existing antidepressant treatments, or can be used as a stand-alone therapy,” concludes Dr. Vibe Frokjaer of Copenhagen University.

Researchers presented their findings at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s 34th Conference.

South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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