Could inhaling menthol help improve memory in Alzheimer’s disease?

  • A new study shows that inhaling menthol improves cognitive function in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Researchers found that menthol inhalation decreased the level of interleukin-1-beta, a protein that causes inflammation.
  • Lower IL-1-beta levels were linked to better cognitive function in healthy mice and mice with Alzheimer’s.
  • The findings suggest the possibility for some inhaled substances to help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a recent study in mouse models, published in Frontiers in Immunology, repetitive brief exposure to methanol can impact the immune system and prevent the cognitive decline that occurs among individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers found that when mice smelled this substance, the level of interleukin-1-beta decreased. This protein is associated with the inflammatory response.

Additionally, by blocking this protein with a drug used to treat autoimmune conditions, researchers were able to boost cognitive ability in the mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms.

These findings illustrate the ability of odors and immune modulators to potentially treat this neurodegenerative disease.

“The study is interesting in that it brings to light the fact that, through the olfactory (smell) pathways, we can modulate the brain,” Dr. Brett Osborn, a board-certified neurosurgeon, chief of neurosurgery at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, FL, not involved in this research, told Medical News Today. “We can effect a positive change on the brain through smell and smell alone.”

Furthermore, this does not require the implantation of a deep brain stimulator electrode or a vagal nerve stimulator system. The study demonstrates that the rodent Alzheimer’s brain can not only be “accessed” but positively affected at the cellular level — in the form of a disease-modifying therapy — through the nasal passages, Dr. Obsorn added.

Why menthol inhalation may help

“The findings that smelling menthol is sufficient to mitigate genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease progression to cognitive dysfunction are provocative,” said Dr. Mikhail Kolonin, professor and director of the Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases with the Institute of Molecular Medicine at UTHealth Houston, TX, who was not involved with this study. “Loss of smell has been previously linked to cognitive impairment and biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in patients.”

The study identifies the clear role of regulatory T cells (T-regs), immune cells with immunosuppressive activity, in mediating cognitive function in mice modeled to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

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