BOSTON -- Traumatic memories that haunt people with post-traumatic stress disorder might be eased by a pill from Novartis now used to treat multiple sclerosis, a study of mice suggests.
Mice given Novartis' Gilenya were faster at getting rid of acquired-fear memories, according to a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The thought-erasing action of the medicine was linked to a newly discovered mechanism unrelated to its immune-suppressing properties that treat MS, researchers said.
Gilenya, also known as fingolimod, is the first oral drug approved for MS, though its beneficial effects in the central nervous system aren't well understood, the researchers said. The study found that the therapy from Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis also inhibits an enzyme called histone deacetylase, and consequently enhances gene-expression processes associated with memory and learning.
"We saw an effect in mice to forget adverse memory," said Sarah Spiegel, the lead study author and chairwoman of the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
The possibility that the drug may treat PTSD is "one thing that comes to mind," Ms. Spiegel said in a telephone interview. "That is a potential implication."
PTSD, a common consequence of combat and exposure to trauma, is mostly treated with psychotherapy and medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Symptoms include bad dreams, flashbacks and frightening thoughts, as well as avoidance of places, objects or events that can stir memories of a bad experience.
Further research will focus on the drug's mechanism of action and whether it can improve cognition, especially in situations where there are deficits in thinking, Ms. Spiegel said.
"It would be nice to see if it enhances cognitive abilities," she said. "This should be straightforward because patients are already treated with the drug."