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Behavioural symptoms are common in moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease (AD) and are improved by memantine with the most pronounced effect on agitation/aggression. Dextromethorphan in combination with quinidine is the only drug approved by US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of pseudobulbar affect (PBA) on the basis of efficacy in patients with multiple sclerosis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The aim of our study was to evaluate the efficacy of memantine on PBA in patients with AD.
In a prospective, double-blind, case-control study to assess PBA with pathological laughter and crying scale patients were administered memantine (final dose of 20 mg daily) or citalopram (20 mg once daily), each for 10 weeks. The number of episodes of involuntary emotional expression, Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI) and Overt Aggression Scale-Modified (OAS-M) total scores were also recorded. Furthermore, the platelet serotonin (5-HT) concentration was measured.
Although memantine had beneficial effects on PBA, it also had a crucial impact on behavioural symptoms, especially aggression and agitation (to an average of 3.5 times higher end-point scores on OAS-M and increase of NPI total scores for an average of 114% of initial value). Therefore, the study was prematurely stopped. In addition, we had evidenced a drop of platelet 5-HT concentration (to an average of 73% of initial value).
Surprisingly, our research showed the opposite action of memantine on neuropsychiatric symptoms as expected. In a limited number of AD patients with PBA, memantine had a beneficial effect on involuntary emotional expression, but it potentiated agitation/aggression, irritability and caused a crucial drop of the platelet 5-HT concentration.